John Legend, ACLU-CA, and Bay Area Nonprofits Team Up to Hold California DAs Accountable

The site might be of special interest to voters in Contra Costa County

In a bid to hold elected officials accountable to voters, the ACLU of California has partnered with local nonprofits to launch a website that tracks the positions of district attorneys across the state. 

Its tagline? "Meet your DA, the most powerful elected official you may not know."

The site debuted Tuesday morning with an announcement video from musician John Legend, who has been a vocal critic of racial disparities within the criminal justice system.

"District attorneys are important players in our fight to end mass incarceration," Legend said. "When we aren't paying attention, their power goes unchecked." 

The ACLU-CA, which partnered with Silicon Valley nonprofit De-Bug and Richmond-based Safe Return Project for the campaign, says the new tool may be especially useful in the months leading up to the 2018 election, in which 56 out of the state's 58 DAs will be up for re-election.

Through infographics and interactives, the website highlights the ideological divide between DAs and a majority of voters on key reform issues. 

For example, close to 70 percent of California voters approved efforts to curtail the controversial Three Strikes Law, but only three out of 58 state DAs supported the proposition. And roughly 65 percent of voters approved a measure for greater parole access and reformed juvenile justice, but only two DAs lent their support to the ballot item. 

Despite maintaining a low profile compared to other local elected officials, district attorneys wield unparalleled power in deciding if charges get filed and how severe those charges should be.

Political watchdogs in Contra Costa County may already be aware of troubles with their own former district attorney, Mark Peterson, who was charged with 13 felonies earlier this year after it was uncovered that he had been using his campaign fund as a personal checking account. KQED also reported that two out of five finalists to replace Peterson have admitted to plagiarizing swaths of their application for the job. 

"Many DAs aren't used to voters paying attention to them," said Ana Zamora, a criminal justice policy director with the ACLU of Northern California, in a statement announcing the new site. "The 'Hey DA Campaign' in California will change that. ... DAs in California should expect to start hearing a lot more from their communities."

Check out the website here. 

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