OAKLAND (CBS SF) – A bill to be introduced in December in the state Assembly would require district attorneys to recuse themselves from police misconduct cases if they have accepted campaign contributions from police unions that represent the accused officer.
The bill will be introduced by Assemblymember Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, who held a virtual news briefing Thursday morning to announce his plan.
Bonta said he will introduce the bill on the first day of the new legislative session.
"This is about trust in law enforcement, and trust in the independence of our elected prosecutors," Bonta said in a statement.
"We must cure the conflict of interest that gives, at minimum, the appearance the police are not held accountable due to the proximity and political influence of law enforcement associations and unions," he said.
But at least one police union is not on board.
"If passed, this draft legislation would silence the voices of thousands of officers," said Barry Donelan, president of the Oakland Police Officers' Association.
It "is clearly a violation of their First Amendment right to free speech," Donelan added.
"What's next?" Donelan said. "Should we force local school board members to recuse themselves from decisions involving a teacher because the teacher's union contributed to that school board member's campaign? Where do you draw the line on who gets to have a voice and who doesn't?"
A conflict of interest would occur when a district attorney, "accepts, solicits, or directs, or has accepted, solicited, or directed, a direct financial campaign contribution from a law enforcement agency or a law enforcement association connected to the law enforcement officer," the draft bill says.
If a district attorney recuses from a case, the state attorney general would be responsible for prosecuting the case, and if the attorney general has a conflict of interest, then a special prosecutor would handle the case, according the draft legislation.
District attorneys would not face criminal charges if they did not recuse themselves, but may be in violation of ethics rules and rules surrounding professional conduct. Discipline for any violation would be determined by the state bar.
At Thursday's briefing, one former and three current district attorneys expressed their support for the proposed bill, including San Francisco's Chesa Bouldin, Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton, San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar and former San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon.
Gascon is now assistant chief of the Los Angeles Police Department and is running for district attorney in Los Angeles.
"There are four of us here today," Becton said. "There should be more."
She said all 58 district attorneys from across the state should have been there supporting the proposed bill.
The sponsor of the bill is the Prosecutors Alliance of California, which provides education, support and training to prosecutors and their staff.
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