Berkeley mayor charged with criminal infraction for theft

CALIFORNIA — Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates has been charged with a criminal infraction for stealing 1,000 copies of the University of California at Berkeley’s student newspaper before the November elections, district attorney officials say.

Bates admitted earlier this month to being involved in stealing and trashing copies of the Nov. 4 edition of The Daily Californian. The edition, which carried an editorial endorsement of his mayoral opponent, incumbent Shirley Dean, was stolen one day before the election.

Bates says he will plead guilty at his January court date.

Following a month-long investigation, U.C. police officials recommended to the Alameda County District Attorney that Bates be charged with petty theft, a misdemeanor punishable by a fine and up to a year in jail. Assistant district attorney John Adams said because Bates has no criminal history, he would be charged with a criminal infraction, which carries a fine of up to $250.

Adams also noted in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle that The Daily Cal’s “net loss could be viewed as relatively small” because the publication is distributed for free, although he acknowledged its value can be measured through advertising revenues.

Under public pressure, Bates said he will propose a city ordinance and support state legislation that would make it a crime to steal free newspapers.

A bill that would have made it a punishable offense to steal free newspapers failed to pass in the state assembly in August. The law would have protected publishers from theft of 25 or more copies. Newspaper thieves in other states have been prosecuted under existing theft and property destruction laws.

Bates also plans to pay The Daily Cal $500 to cover the cost of the trashed copies, but Rong Gong Lin, the editor of the student paper, has said that much of the mayor’s credibility is already lost.

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