Getting to Know 2021 Board President Dorian Peters

Tell us about yourself.

I am an attorney and a police officer. I work for the City of El Cerrito as a Detective assigned to the Investigation Bureau of the Police Department. Prior to my police work, I worked as a criminal attorney for about 10 years, both as a prosecutor and a criminal defense attorney. I am a State Bar certified specialist in criminal law. I have been an involved member of the Contra Costa County Bar Association since 2012.

I was born and raised mostly in Berkeley, but I moved from place to place as a young person, never staying in one place for more than a couple of years. I have lived in every city along the BART red line (Emeryville, Oakland, Berkeley, Albany, El Cerrito, and Richmond).

I attended Berkeley High School, which I enjoyed despite mostly neglecting to do my schoolwork. I worked on the school newspaper, the Berkeley High Jacket, where I wrote for and edited the news section of the paper.

This experience helped me learn to take great pride in my work. It was one thing for a homework assignment to have a typo because only the teacher saw it. But articles with my byline that all my friends and peers were reading had to be perfect. Working on my school paper also taught me the power of the pen. Twenty years ago, our school paper published a story where we revealed that a large Berkeley landlord was bringing women from overseas to Berkeley and forcing them into indentured servitude. That landlord was charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and sentenced to eight years in prison. Our high school paper won the Society of Professional Journalists “Journalist of the Year” award – becoming the first non-professional winner of the award.

I attended the University of California, Berkeley where I double majored in Political Science and Mass Communications. Between my sophomore and junior year, I spent a summer at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana to conduct academic research on international terrorism. Between my junior and senior years, I spent the summer living in Washington DC, where I worked for Congresswoman Barbara Lee as a congressional intern.

Why did you attend law school and become an attorney?

When I was growing up, my mother struggled. Although she has never practiced law, she attended and graduated from Berkeley Law. I saw my mother advocate for us in numerous situations, especially in landlord-tenant issues. Her legal knowledge allowed her to push back against people who had more power and more money. In several cases, her knowledge literally kept a roof over our heads. I began to see knowing the law as knowing the rules of a game. How do you win the game if you do not know the rules? It became crystal clear that people who knew the law would be able to achieve better outcomes than people who did not, even in similar situations.

While at Berkeley High School, I took an American Government class that had a Street Law component. Street Law was a program where a law student from Berkeley Law taught students the basic of law as it might apply to them. Is it against the law to cut school? (yes) Do I have to stop when the police try to talk to me? (it depends) Is it illegal to download MP3 files using Napster? (yes)

This class led me to the Summer Legal Fellowship Program run by the Center for Youth Development through Law, a work and education program meant for underprivileged students interested in law. This program led to me interning at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco. I got to watch as record labels sued Napster for copyright infringement in federal court. I watched Dwayne Wiggins of music group Tony! Toni! Toné! sue the Oakland Police Department for excessive force and got to watch settlement discussions. I enjoyed seeing how the system worked and wanted to become part of it. At this point, the future of the journalism industry began to look bleak and I decided to pursue a career in law.

How was law school?

While in law school, I was attracted to the activities that simulated real practice of law. I participated in the mock trial competition, which my partner and I won. I also did moot court where I made it to the playoff rounds. I enjoyed these activities so much that I realized that whatever type of law I practiced, I wanted to end up in a courtroom.
I worked as a law clerk for the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s office during the summer of my second year and after graduating law school, but before taking the bar exam.

As a certified law student, I was able to make court appearances. I wrote and argued several motions and conducted preliminary hearings. After passing the bar exam, I started my career as a Deputy District Attorney in Contra Costa County. I later worked as an employment attorney for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. I also worked as criminal defense attorney, both as a solo and at the law firm Gagen McCoy.

How did you become involved with the CCCBA?

After leaving the District Attorney’s office, I opened a solo criminal defense practice. I immediately joined the CCCBA. I received my first clients from the CCCBA’s Criminal Conflicts Panel and the Lawyers Referral and Information Service programs. I also attended the “Bridging the Gap” program, hosted by the Barristers section.

I attended a State Bar Annual Meeting in San Diego. While walking down the street during lunch time, I randomly ran into a group of attorneys that I recognized from Contra Costa County. I learned that they were attending the California Conference of Bar Associations that it typically held at the same time and place as the Annual Meeting. One of those attorneys was then CCCBA President Steve Steinberg. I chatted with him about my practice and involvement in the Criminal Conflicts Panel. He later appointed me to the Criminal Conflicts Panel Committee which oversaw and managed the program.

I became involved with the Criminal and Barristers sections. I helped teach a five-part MCLE class called Trials 101 where attorneys learned the basics of criminal and civil litigation. Since being on the Board, I have served on the Communications, Editorial and DEI Committees. I also helped coordinate the DA Forum and served on a committee that helped modernize the CCCBA website.

What do you hope to accomplish as President?

Our Bar Association is strong. Despite the pandemic, we are seeing high levels of participation and engagement from our members. However, the pandemic has put unique pressures on our association, the courts, and the practice of law. My goal is to help keep the community of lawyers in Contra Costa strong as we work to get through the pandemic.
We will do this by providing MCLE events remotely and providing education to our members to help them work through the challenges of staying at home and working remotely. With all the rapid changes involving court operations, health orders, and the remote practice of law in Contra Costa County, I am focused on making sure that attorneys have the information they need to do their jobs.

Lastly, but importantly, I am hoping to strengthen the bonds between the bar association and our bench. We are proud that the Governor has appointed several CCCBA members as judicial officers. We want to assist our courts as much as we can so we can make it through this uncertain time together.

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