Runoff looms in Contra Costa DA race

Missing outright election by just a few hundred votes, incumbent Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton will likely face off again with Paul Graves, one of her office’s top deputies, in November.

Becton received 49.59 percent of Tuesday’s vote, according to complete unofficial election results. That was ahead of Graves’ 42.06 percent, but not enough to reach 50 percent and avoid a November runoff.

Lawrence Strauss, an Orinda-based attorney and a former prosecutor, finished a distant third.

Becton was appointed to serve out the term of Mark Peterson, who had resigned before being sentenced to probation after pleading no contest to one count of felony perjury. Peterson had been accused of lying about using campaign funds for personal expenses.

The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors chose Becton — who spent 22 years as a Superior Court judge but had no experience as a prosecutor — from among five applicant finalists. She is the first woman, and the first African American, to head up the office.

Also among the five finalists for appointment to the DA job was Graves, a 22-year veteran of the office and senior deputy district attorney in charge of its Family Violence unit and now working under Becton.

It was Graves, and not Becton, who earned the endorsement of the Contra Costa prosecutors’ union both for the appointment by the board and during the campaign for Tuesday’s election.

The supervisors chose Becton in part as a fresh voice for an office criticized for its handling of cases against minorities.

Both Becton and Graves acknowledged the district attorney’s office needed fresh leadership after a series of high-profile incidents that included not only Peterson’s problems but also fallout from the 2008 arrest of prosecutor Michael Gressett on suspicion of raping a fellow prosecutor. The county settled with the alleged victim in that case in 2011.

Strauss ran on a platform of progressive criminal justice reform, and of increasing the efficiency of the district attorney’s office. He drew harsh criticism from law enforcement after saying at an April candidates’ forum that he wouldn’t seek the death penalty against any accused killer of a peace officer because “it’s part of the risk they take.”