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Steve Cooley

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Steve Cooley
Cooley small.jpg
Los Angeles County District Attorney
Former officeholder
In office
2000 - 2012
Personal website
Stephen "Steve" Lawrence Cooley (born May 1, 1947, in Los Angeles, California) was a Republican Los Angeles County District Attorney for three terms. He launched his candidacy with the formation of an exploratory committee in January 2010 seeking the statewide office of attorney general, the seat vacated by Democrat Jerry Brown, who ran for governor, in the 2010 election.[1] He won the Republican nomination on Tuesday, June 8, 2010, with forty-seven percent of the vote.


  • Bachelor's degree, California State University - Los Angeles (1970)
  • Juris Doctorate degree, University of Southern California (1973)


Deborah Peagler

In 1982, a black woman named Deborah Peagler was implicated in connection with the murder of Oliver Wilson, the man who abused her, forced her into prostitution, and molested her daughters, and was charged with first-degree murder. She admitted that, though she was not present at the scene, she had arranged Wilson's murder with two crips gang members. Instructed by her attorney to plead guilty in order to avoid the death penalty, Peagler was sentenced to twenty-five years in prison.

Although he originally supported her release from prison twenty years after she was first sentenced, two pro bono lawyers accused Cooley of reneging "on a deal for Peagler to plead to a single count of voluntary manslaughter, be given credit for time served and be released." The Los Angeles County District Attorney voiced objection to the use of a California legal argument called the "battered women's syndrome" or "intimate partner battering defense" that "allows defendants convicted of killing their batterers to win reduced sentences if they can show that the abuse, and its effects, led to the killing."[2][3]

In April 2008, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William C. Ryan removed Cooley's entire office from the cases on the basis "he believed that district attorney's officials could not fairly cross-examine their own bosses if Cooley and other top prosecutors are called to testify in the case."[4] The California Court of Appeals, however, reversed the decision soon after.

Five months after being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, the California Board of Parole Hearings deemed her suitable for release. In spite of Cooley's objection to the parole decision, Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger refused to review the parole finding, which in turn allowed Peagler's release in late-August 2009.

Gladwin Gill contribution

In late-August 2010, the Los Angeles Weekly published an article accusing Steve Cooley, Los Angeles District Attorney and Republican candidate for State Attorney General, of playing politics when it came to enforcing the state's campaign finance laws. Specifically, the newspaper argued that Cooley had engaged in selective prosecution of "conduit contributors," moneyed individuals who reimburse various family members, friends, or associates for their contributions, thus skirting campaign contribution limits. In 2003, the Los Angeles D.A. aggressively targeted Alan Casden, a real estate developer and a high-profile Democratic campaign contributor, and John Archibald, an executive at Casden's company, "for reimbursing friends and associates for donations to city politicians."[5] At the same time, however, he failed to pursue legal action against Gladwin Gill, a Pakistani immigrant who has twice been convicted of the exact same scheme. What is more, it is reported, is that Gill and several of his phony straw contributors donated generously to Cooley's re-election campaign, each one making the maximum $1,000 contribution.[6]

Jessica's law

Midway through his second term, Cooley faced significant political backlash for his opposition to California Proposition 83, a ballot measure that, among other things, forced formerly imprisoned sex offenders to live at least two thousand feet from public parks and schools. As one of the few law enforcement officials who took a stance against the legislation, Cooley argued that the measure "does not spell out who is responsible for enforcing residency restrictions for ex-parolees; nor does it penalize those who violate the rules," thus leaving it to the courts to work the major points of contention.[7]

Sex offender deal

Barely a week before the 2008 election, Cooley was attacked by his political opponents for a deal he made in October 2006 "with judges and defense attorneys ... to postpone seeking tougher sanctions against some serious sex offenders who had already served their prison sentences." Critics argued that the agreement, which reportedly required two-year hospital commitments be made for a majority of prisoners declared by the courts to be sexually violent predators, undermined the will of the people, who, a month later, voted on a measure that called for indefinite hospital terms.[8]

State public employee pension

CalWatchDog, a conservative political news blog associated with the Pacific Research Institute, published a story in late-May 2010 highlighting the increasing burden state taxpayers have had to endure in light of the astronomical cost of state public employee pension liabilities, which top off at half a trillion dollars. Among those the site focused on was former Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, who, if elected the state's attorney general later this year, "stands to collect more than $400,000 in combined salary and retirement benefits" annually.[9]


As it stands now, Cooley, who is sixty-three years old, makes $292,300 per year as the Los Angeles County District Attorney. The Los Angeles County pension formula for public safety personnel is 2.62 percent at age 60. Multiply the 2.62 percent with the thirty-six years of service Cooley has under his belt and that amounts to him receiving 94.32 percent of his salary, or about $275,697 in annual contributions to his pension. However, the exact amount of benefits the State Attorney General candidate is expected to receive could be considerably much higher. Were Cooley to retire this year, the Social Security Administration, which states "that employees who retire at that age typically collect benefits for 18 years," could bring in up to $4.9 million in benefits for the LA County District Attorney.[10]

The Republican candidate for State Attorney General has been criticized for two things - the first is that he has been relying too much on state taxpayers to pick up the tab for his retirement fund. The California Public Employees' Retirement System, or CalPERS, has not disclosed the exact amount Cooley himself contributes to his pension, but it does state that public employees typically give between five and seven percent of their annual salary to their pension. At most, based on this rough figure, Cooley's donation of seven percent of his salary per year would amount to only $378,000 for his retirement fund. The other issue at hand, however, is that Cooley, should he receive the Republican nomination and then be elected in November as the next Attorney General of California, he may actually be double-dipping when it comes to his pension. His current retirement fund falls under the jurisdiction of the Los Angeles County system, but as attorney general his pension would be controlled by CalPERS. Though normally "employees who retire under CalPERS can’t then turn around and start working at another state job while still earning their pension," the state program "has a special exemption for elected officials who get elected to different elected offices," thus allowing an individual like Cooley to collect both his retirement as well as his salary.[9]

Three strikes law

Cooley has been severely criticized, particularly from State Senator Tom Harman's attorney general campaign, for being soft on crime as a direct result of his stance on the state's three strikes law. It was during his first term as district attorney of Los Angeles County that he altered his office's stance regarding the legal statute so that it better reflected proportionality in sentencing and even-handed application countywide. Specifically, however, it was his active collaboration with state political activists like San Francisco District Attorney Kamalan Harris - who is considered to be one of the most progressive politicians not only within the state, but the country as well - in addition to then-Assemblyman Mark Leno and State Senator Gloria Romero in weakening the three strikes law that has drawn the ire of conservative critics.[11][12] His position on the issue has, in turn, forced him to resign from the California District Attorneys Association in 2006 and to face an ultimately unsuccessful electoral challenge two years later by his former deputy Steve Ipsen.[13]



See also: California Attorney General election, 2010
2010 Race for Attorney General - Republican Primary[14]
Party Candidate Vote Percentage
     Republican Party Steve Cooley 47.3%
     Republican Party John Eastman 34.2%
     Republican Party Tom Harman 18.5%
Total Votes 1,555,709
Steve Cooley for Attorney General Campaign logo
2010 Race for Attorney General - General Election[15]
Party Candidate Vote Percentage
     Democratic Party Kamala Harris 46.0%
     Republican Party Steve Cooley 45.5%
     Green Party Peter Allen 2.7%
     Libertarian Party Timothy Hannan 2.5%
     American Independent Party Diane Templin 1,7%
     Peace and Freedom Party Robert J. Evans 1.6%
Total Votes 9,544,403


2004 Race for Los Angeles County District Attorney - Primary Election[13]
Candidates Percentage
Green check mark.jpg Steve Cooley 64.9%
Albert Robles 19.6%
Steve Ipsen 15.5%
Total votes 616,921
  • 2008 Race for Los Angeles County District Attorney - General Election
    • Steve Cooley ran unopposed in this contest


2004 Race for Los Angeles County District Attorney - Primary Election[16]
Candidates Percentage
Green check mark.jpg Steve Cooley 59.2%
Nick Pacheco 15.0%
Denise B. Moehlman 9.1%
Tom Higgins 7.1%
Roger Carrick 6.8%
Anthony G. Patchett 2.9%
Total votes 1,008,610
  • 2004 Race for Los Angeles County District Attorney - General Election
    • Steve Cooley ran unopposed in this contest


2000 Race for Los Angeles County District Attorney - Primary Election[17]
Candidates Percentage
Green check mark.jpg Steve Cooley 38.3%
Gil Garcetti 37.3%
Barry Groveman 24.4%
Total votes 1,496,204
2000 Race for Los Angeles County District Attorney - General Election[18]
Candidates Percentage
Green check mark.jpg Steve Cooley 63.8%
Gil Garcetti 36.2%
Total votes 2,271,264

Campaign donors


According to Follow the Money, Cooley has raised $396,085 in 2010 for his state attorney general campaign as of September 20, 2010.[19]

Listed below are the top five contributors:

Donor Amount
Shawn Steel $7,000
Helen Mars $6,500
Solon Soteras $6,500
Michael O'Connell $6,500
Alex Soteras $6,500


Cooley currently resides in Toluca Lake, California, where he has lived with his wife, Jana, for over thirty years. The couple has had two children together - Michael and Shannon.


  • Prosecutor of the Year Award (2001) from the Century City Bar Association
  • Crime Victims Star of the Year Award from Justice for Homicide Victims
  • Champion of the People Award from the National Black Prosecutors Association
  • Leaders in Public Service Award from the Encino Chamber of Commerce
  • Community Justice Award from the California NAACP

See also

External links

The Internet Archive's Wayback Machine was used to recall this version of the website from November 1, 2010.


  1. Sacramento Bee, "Steve Cooley forms committee to explore AG run" 11 Jan. 2010
  2. San Francisco Chronicle, "Crusade for justice: 2 attorneys fight to free Deborah Peagler" 10 Sept. 2007
  3. Los Angeles Times, "Lawsuit says Cooley reneged on promise" 7 Dec. 2007
  4. Los Angeles Times, "Judge bars D.A. from murder appeal" 26 April, 2008
  5. Los Angeles Weekly, "Cooley's Blind Eye" 26 Aug. 2010
  6. San Francisco Weekly, "Steve Cooley's Potential Finance Scandal Ignites Kamala Harris Press Storm" 26 Aug. 2010
  7. San Diego Union Tribune, "Law creates homeless parolees, report says" 22 Feb. 2008
  8. Los Angeles Times, "Sex offender deal an issue in campaign" 31 May, 2008
  9. 9.0 9.1 Metropolitan News-Enterprise, "Eastman Blasts Campaign Rival Cooley Over Pension ‘Double Dipping’" 27 May, 2010
  10. CalWatchDog, "Cooley as pension-reform poster boy" 26 May, 2010
  11. Red County, "AG Watch: Steve Cooley Wants To Weaken Three Strikes Law" 5 March, 2010
  12. Los Angeles Times, "Steve Cooley's three-strikes views get coverage in New York Times Magazine" 21 May, 2010
  13. 13.0 13.1 County of Los Angeles Department of Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk - 2008 Official Primary Election Results
  14. California Secretary of State - 2010 Statewide Primary Election Results
  15. California Secretary of State - 2010 General Election Results
  16. County of Los Angeles Department of Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk - 2004 Official Primary Election Results
  17. County of Los Angeles Department of Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk - 2000 Official Primary Election Results
  18. County of Los Angeles Department of Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk - 2000 Official General Election Results
  19. Follow the Money - Campaign Contributions for Steve Cooley, 2010