A Troubled Rape Case 

The high-profile rape charges against Deputy District Attorney Michael Gressett are tainted by questionable facts, unorthodox prosecutorial conduct, and the unmistakable whiff of politics.

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Co-workers say they repeatedly warned Jane Doe not to tell people about her feelings toward Gressett. Deputy District Attorneys Leoni and Weiss say they warned her on separate occasions that Gressett was radioactive as far as the administration was concerned. According to prosecutors' interviews with Leoni, Weiss and Doe, if she told people she was sleeping with Gressett, it could cost her a permanent job.

Jane Doe's three-year contract was about to expire around the time of the alleged sexual assault. And, according to text messages obtained by defense attorneys, which she sent to friends during the month before the alleged assault, she was worried about losing her job.

In fact, according to a message she sent to Deputy DA Weiss, Doe was rated seventh out of the eight contract attorneys in her class. These attorneys are typically rated on a combination of a written examination and supervisor evaluations. With such a dismal rating, it was almost certain that Jane Doe would not be offered a permanent job.

Like about half of the 85 attorneys who work for the Contra Costa County District Attorney, Doe was a contract attorney. New attorneys are given a three-year contract and only about half of them land permanent jobs when their contracts expire. Contract attorneys work like dogs to please their supervisors and improve their chances of landing a permanent job, said one former deputy DA. That makes them keen to get along within the office culture.

"You have to be perceived as a good worker who doesn't cause trouble," said the lawyer, who worked in the office for several years after her contract expired. "You want everyone to like you. So for example, if you're offended by sex talk, you're not going to say anything. You're just going to smile and nod your head."

Critics of the system say it creates a dog-eat-dog environment in which contract attorneys will do almost anything to keep their jobs — including stabbing co-workers in the back. "Friends turn on friends if they think they can gain a few points," said another deputy DA, who now works in a different county. "The contract system makes animals out of people."

Contra Costa County has the only DA's office in the Bay Area — and possibly all of California — that uses the contract system, said former Contra Costa Deputy District Attorney Michael Menesini, who now works in the San Francisco DA's office. Menesini said the system was adopted in 1978 to help the county through tough financial times. But since then, he said, it has morphed into something that abuses the labor pool and the taxpayers. Most other Bay Area DAs hire new lawyers on a six-month to one-year probationary period, after which they are almost guaranteed a permanent job unless there is some kind of problem.

"The idea is that the new hires are going to stay and be nurtured into seasoned attorneys, which benefits them, the office, and the taxpayer," Menesini said. "In Contra Costa County, it's not nurture, it's torture. Contract attorneys will do almost anything to be hired and many are often hired not because they are qualified, but because they are good at palace politics."

When Jane Doe began letting it be known around the office that she wanted to "fuck Gressett," Leoni said she thought the two were sexually compatible based on their boasting and blathering. But no one could have seen how explosive their short attachment would be.

Jane Doe said Gressett invited her to lunch on May 8, 2008, and took her to his Martinez condominium. After giving her a tour, she later said, he produced a steak knife and began poking the end of the knife at her sweater and running it along her arms, breast, and neck.

The two apparently began kissing, and Gressett led Doe to his bedroom where they both removed their clothes prior to engaging in what she said she thought was going to be consensual sex. But Gressett suddenly became aggressive, she said. He turned her over and began forcibly sodomizing her, she said, despite her repeated pleas for him to stop.

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