Many Contra Costa crooks won't be prosecuted
Henry K. Lee, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
The Contra Costa District Attorney's Office is taking hea... District Attorney Robert Kochly blames budget cuts for li...
(04-21) 16:41 PDT MARTINEZ -- Misdemeanors such as assaults, thefts and burglaries will no longer be prosecuted in Contra Costa County because of budget cuts, the county's top prosecutor said Tuesday.
District Attorney Robert Kochly also said that beginning May 4, his office will no longer prosecute felony drug cases involving smaller amounts of narcotics. That means anyone caught with less than a gram of methamphetamine or cocaine, less than 0.5 grams of heroin and fewer than five pills of ecstasy, OxyContin or Vicodin won't be charged.
People who are suspected of misdemeanor drug crimes, break minor traffic laws, shoplift, trespass or commit misdemeanor vandalism will also be in the clear. Those crimes won't be prosecuted, either.
"We had to make very, very difficult choices, and we had to try to prioritize things. There are no good choices to be made here," said Kochly, a 35-year veteran prosecutor. "It's trying to choose the lesser of certain evils in deciding what we can and cannot do."
Barry Grove, a deputy district attorney who is president of the Contra Costa County District Attorneys Association, said, "There's no question that these kinds of crimes are going to drastically affect the quality of life for all the citizens of Contra Costa County."
The decision not to go after any perpetrators of certain offenses, Grove said, amounts to "holding up a sign and advertising to the criminal element to come to Contra Costa County, because we're no longer going to prosecute you."
Don't even bother submitting the cases, Kochly said Monday in a memo to the Contra Costa County Police Chiefs Association. "If they are submitted, they will be screened out by category by support staff and returned to your department without review by a deputy district attorney," he wrote.
Kochly wrote that he had long taken pride in saying that his office could do "more with less."
"Unfortunately, we have now reached a point where we cannot maintain the status quo," he said. "We will definitely be doing 'less with less' as a prosecution agency."
The changes are needed to help eliminate a $1.9 million budget deficit in the district attorney's office for this fiscal year. By month's end, six deputy district attorneys will be laid off, and 11 more will have to be let go by the end of the year, Kochly said.
The county Board of Supervisors originally proposed cutting the office's budget by $4.1 million. But after Kochly argued that such a reduction would hurt his ability to prosecute petty thefts, the board used sales-tax revenue to close the gap.
Supervisor John Gioia, who represents Richmond, said the list of crimes that Kochly says he won't prosecute is far longer now than what he told the board during its budget deliberations.
"I don't think it's a good idea for the chief prosecutor in the county to inform the public at large what cases they're not going to prosecute," Gioia said.
The district attorney's decision was upsetting news to Janet Kelleghan, an employee at Donna's Gifts in Concord, which has been victimized by thieves in the past.
"If they know they're not going to be prosecuted, there's going to be a lot more shoplifting," Kelleghan said. "I'd ask them to reconsider," she said of the district attorney's office.
Kochly said prosecutors will still consider charging suspects with certain misdemeanors, including domestic violence, driving under the influence, firearms offenses, vehicular manslaughter, sex crimes and assault with a deadly weapon.
E-mail Henry K. Lee at email@example.com.
This article appeared on page B - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle