Contra Costa Merit Board upholds discipline, but expresses sympathy for prosecutor who claimed political retaliation

MARTINEZ — The Contra Costa County Merit Board voted late last year to keep in place a reprimand letter against a longtime gang prosecutor who was disciplined for refusing to take a plea deal in a 2019 juvenile murder case and subsequently accused his boss of political retaliation.

The board’s November decision follows the recommendation of Administrative Law Judge Karen Reichmann, who agreed with District Attorney Diana Becton’s decision to formally reprimand deputy district attorney Chad Mahalich, writing in her decision that Becton’s actions were necessary to “prevent further misconduct, and to provide context for future disciplinary action, should appellant persist in engaging in insubordination.”

While upholding the judge’s ruling in a unanimous, 5-0 vote, merit board members expressed sympathy for Mahalich and several of them said at the meeting that he “may have been” subjected to political retaliation, according to audio of the meeting recently obtained by this newspaper.

“(Mahalich) took a stand and sometimes when you take a stand like that, there are consequences,” board member Dennis Reigle said. He later added, “This process doesn’t smell very good to me, but at the same time … the wording of the reprimand and the reasons for the reprimand were valid.”

The reprimand letter was a mild form of discipline that didn’t result in a demotion or more severe consequences. But Mahalich’s appeal of it — which was heard on several livestreamed hearings — exposed rifts and conflicts within the DA’s office: Several prosecutors publicly accused each other of lying, Mahalich cross-examined Becton and accused her of brushing off a murder victim’s family, and Mahalich chided his immediate superior for arranging a workshop on implicit bias, which included a discussion by an NBA player on white privilege.

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In her 16-page decision, Reichmann found Mahalich’s political retaliation claims were “not supported by the evidence” and that there was “no unlawful motive” behind Becton’s decision to issue the reprimand letter.

“Appellant contends that he was treated differently than other employees because of his political views,” she wrote in her October 2020 decision. “There was no evidence that any other employee who committed a similar act of insubordination was treated differently than appellant.”

The controversy centers on a murder case resulting from the May 2017 shooting of Discovery Bay resident Allie Sweitzer, who was killed by a then-15-year-old boy. When a new law, SB 1391, took effect that forbade anyone younger than 16 from being tried as an adult, Sweitzer’s killer was sentenced to seven years in juvenile detention — and Mahalich refused to facilitate the sentencing hearing.

Becton consequently reprimanded Mahalich on the grounds that he disobeyed her order that he not challenge the constitutionality of SB 1391 (which a Southern California appeals court later found was constitutional). Mahalich countered that Becton’s reprimand was an excuse to discipline and that his actions didn’t fly in the face of her order.

At the November meeting, Mahalich repeated those arguments and said that, “if anything, things have gotten potentially worse” since he filed …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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