Los Angeles County District Attorney Sentencing Reform

LA Association of Deputy District Attorneys Files New Lawsuit That Aims to Reverse Many of DA George Gascón’s Reforms

Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon

On Wednesday morning, the Los Angeles Association of Deputy District Attorneys filed a lawsuit, along with an application for a temporary restraining order.  Both legal filings aim to keep Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón from continuing to institute a series of reforms that Gascón put in place during the first few days after his virtual swearing on December 7, 2020, and which represent many of the campaign promises he made to voters during the course of the runoff election to unseat two term LA District Jackie Lacey.

District Attorney George Gascon via SEIU99

The request for the Temporary Restraining Order — or TRO — which was heard Wednesday morning by Superior Court Judge David Cowen, was meant, as its name suggests, to temporarily force Gascón to withdraw his directive telling the prosecutors he oversees to stop using a list of sentencing “enhancements,” such as certain parts of California’s three strikes law, the California STEP Act (which lengthen a sentence if the defendant is believed to part of a street gang), plus other sentencing strategies that can add years or decades, to someone’s prison term, in addition to the range of prison sentences that the commission of certain crimes already require.

If the judge had granted the TRO, it would as its name suggests temporarily force Gascón to immediately cease and desists with the new reform directives — which the ADDA calls “radical” and “plainly unlawful — while the new lawsuit, makes its way through the court system in the hope of  permanently getting rid of  the same list of Gascón’s reform directives.

“While an elected District Attorney has wide discretion in determining what charges to pursue in an individual case, that discretion does not authorize him or her to violate the law or to direct attorneys representing the district attorney’s office to violate the law,” said Michele Hanisee, President of the ADDA, in a statement issued Wednesday morning regarding why the association she leads had filed the lawsuit against LA County’s new DA.

Eric Siddal, who is the ADDA’s Vice President, went still further.

Eric Siddall, Vice President of ADDA

DA Gascón’s reforms place LA County prosecutors “in an impossible position,” he said, “forcing them to ask themselves whether they should follow their legal and ethical responsibilities and risk getting disciplined, even fired, by our new boss? Or do we follow his policy directives and risk losing our California State Bar Cards and, by extension, our ability to practice law anywhere in the state?”

The ADDA was now asking the court to answer those questions, said Siddall.

But when the association’s request for a TRO was heard on Wednesday morning by Superior Court Judge David Cowen, the judge turned out not to be inclined to grant the request for temporary restraining order.

Instead, Judge Cowen reportedly gave the ADDA’s attorney a choice. He and his team could either voluntarily withdraw the request for the TRO, or Judge Cowen himself would formally deny it.

Unsurprisingly, the ADDA chose to withdraw the TRO request themselves.

This means that, in early February, the ADDA’s attorneys will return to the downtown courthouse to try to persuade another judge to issue a permanent injunction barring enforcement of a significant portion of Gascón’s brand new post election Special Directives.  If the judge sides with the ADDA, this will mean that the Deputy DA’s who don’t like the reforms, can pretty much ignore them.


Why now?

The ADDA’s lawsuit’s comes in the wake of strong push back from some victims rights organizations, which caused Gascón to modify his directive on sentencing enhancements for hate crimes, certain financial crimes, elder and child abuse, and sex trafficking, after meeting with victims’ groups.

Now, Wednesday morning’s filing by the ADDA has drawn its own strong push back from a variety of directions.

Miriam Krinsky, executive director of Fair & Just Prosecution

After the Judge Cowen made clear that the restraining order request wasn’t going to fly, Fair and Just Prosecution’s Executive Director Miriam Krinsky, who is a former federal prosecutor, said she found it “disheartening,”  to see Wednesday’s move by the Association of Deputy District Attorneys to block, what Krinsky said was the “unambiguous will” of the voters who elected Gascón over former Los Angeles County DA, Jackie Lacey, by a healthy margin.

Given the ADDA’s “noticeable silence during a long history of relying on prosecutorial discretion to bring more serious charges, pile on enhancements, and ratchet up penalties,” Krinsky said, “this week’s claim that DA Gascon’s policies are somehow ‘unethical’ or ‘unlawful’ and that line prosecutors should not be expected to implement changes that voters resoundingly embraced…”  It “rings hollow,” she said.

Dean of UC Berkeley Law School, Erwin Chemerinsky, along with David Mills, Professor of Practice of Law and Senior Lecturer at Stanford Law School, and Michael Romano,and Michael Romano, Director of Stanford Law School’s Three Strikes Project, similarly questioned the sincerity of the ADDA’s sudden claim that the new DA’s position on sentencing enhancements and other justice reforms, was somehow “unconstitutional,” and that following the new directives would force LA’s assistant DA’s to violate their respective consciences and their allegiance to justice.

Michael Romano, Director of Stanford Law School’s Three Strikes Project

“The California Supreme Court,” the three wrote, has held that California’s various local district attorneys “are given complete authority” to enforce the state criminal law in their respective counties.

“That the [ADDA] now claims the practice to be unlawful is more reflective of their longstanding opposition to reform and the will of millions of Angelenos, than it is the legality of DA Gascón’s directives,” they wrote in a statement.

“DA Gascón’s policies will enhance health and safety in Los Angeles and begin a much needed process to reduce epidemic levels of mass incarceration.”

(It helps to know that Chemerinsky and Romano — in addition to their day jobs — are both members of Gascón’s transition team. Stanford Professor David Mills, along with Romano, was deeply involved the reform of California’s Three Strikes law, and are both expert on the general topic of sentencing enhancements. Chemerinsky is, among other things,  a nationally known expert in Constitutional law.)


Community safety and the rights of victims

Several victim’s rights groups were among those who have voiced strong support for the changes Gascón is working to put in place, and expressed their opposition to the ADDA’s new legal filing.

“The fact is, extreme sentencing laws enacted in California over the past several decades have done nothing to increase the safety and well being of our communities,” said Tinisch Hollins, California state director for Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice.

Tinisch Hollins, President of Californians for Safety and Justice

“Instead, they’ve done the opposite, deepening racial disparities, increasing economic insecurity and further destabilizing those communities most impacted by crime and violence.”

A survivor of crime herself, and leader of what is arguably California’s largest network of crime survivors, Hollins said she has dedicated her life to “working to prevent anyone else from becoming a victim of crime, and  making sure all of our communities enjoy true safety.”

But, keeping people locked up longer than necessary through sentencing enhancements and determinate sentencing is not the way to do it, said Hollins.

“Victims deserve better than a tough on crime approach that has never made us safer.  And District Attorney Gascon should be commended for not yielding to the defenders of a failed system.”

After the judge spiked the ADDA’s temporary restraining order request  Gascón, issued his own statement on the filing of the new lawsuit.

“From serving as a beat cop with the LAPD to Chief of Police in some of America’s most conservative and progressive cities, I have spent my life ensuring those who pose a threat to our community are held accountable and kept away from the rest of us.”

(Prior to being the San Francisco DA, George Gascón was the Chief of Police for Mesa Arizona, the Chief of San Francisco PD, and the first Assistant Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department under Bill Bratton, which meant he ran daily patrol operations.)

But during those years, he said, he observed that sentencing enhancements, and the like, “have never been shown to enhance our safety.”

For  these reasons, said Gascón, he has asked the LA deputy district attorneys who make an appearance,  “‘for the people’ to end excessive sentencing practices,” that compromise the “long-term health and safety,” of LA County’s communities.

By the end of the day, Gascon had launched a Victims of Crime Advisory Board.

“As we’ve seen in recent weeks,” Gascon said in the statement containing the announcement of the new advisory board,  “this new approach will take some fine-tuning and a tolerance for change. I invite open and respectful debate based on the facts, however, the people have spoken, the direction is clear and, in the end, we all want the same things – safety and equal justice under the law.”

More as we know it.

14 Comments

  • I am not positing my political views here. let’s be clear. As many of you know, I walk down the middle in public spaces and even in private to those I don’t know well. Buy me a nice dram, and that’s a different story. With that said, and without divulging my political leanings, which honestly are not that secret, Gascon is horrendously unqualified for this job and will prove to be. I can actually agree with some of the arguments against sentencing enhancements; some. But to say all enhancements are anathema to justice is puzzling, at best. To decree enhancements for cop killers are unwarranted is just revolting. Yes, I represent cops, it’s my life, my career, etc. I get it, I’m biased. But do I really speak for the minority here? You mean to tell me, the average LA County citizen is aghast at an enhancement for a cop killer? I call horse sh*t. For me, and my own opinion, the fact that Gascon though ending enhancement for cop killer was a good idea is enough to pass judgment on his entire platform.

  • Well, this is interesting. I admire these Deputy DA’s for pushing back, drawing a line and standing behind the oath they pledged when sworn into office. The DA’s are supposed to represent the people in criminal matters and in our adversarial criminal justice system, not make the job of the defense a cake walk. We all know plea bargins and the like are the norm in criminal proceedings and prosecutors routinely exercise wide prosecutorial powers but to not fully charge defendants to the fullest extinct of the law? Come on man, who are you working for? With a DA like Gascon why have a DA’s office at all or police for that matter, if criminals are not going to be prosecuted?

    At least these Deputy DA’s have the credibility to be taken seriously and not immediately dismissed by this site, the BOS and other media outlets. I could only imagine the lack of concern, “yawning” and lack of coverage if say Deputy Sheriff’s voiced a vote of no confidence in the Sheriff? Oh, it was already tried with Jim McDonnell and was all but dismissed.

  • The political winds are currently favoring the upper middle class and wealthy liberal white ladies from the west side. This is who Witness la consists of ,and of course, writes for. And whatever George Gascon’s got these ladies are buying, look no farther than witness la’s gushing admiration of this guy.

    I’ll give Gascon this much though, he seems to know exactly who he’s playing to. While “restorative justice” and “over incarceration” are all the rage at west side cocktail parties, the liberal ladies still have criminals they want to see locked up. Notice how Gascon quickly gave into certain “victim groups” and agreed to go after hate crimes, sex trafficking, certain financial crimes (whatever that means), and assorted other crimes frowned upon in upscale fashionable circles. Expect to see a lot more of this in the near future. Hopefully, eventually the ladies will become bored and move onto other hobbies that aren’t as destructive.

  • I read up on Gascon’s alleged victim groups. These groups basically suggest that offenders are untreated victims. They offend because of a lack of treatment and understanding by the wider community.

    Many victims do not become offenders. Most go untreated and do not assault others. They take personal responsibility for their behavior, have empathy for others and cope with their pain to live productive lives. Offenders choose another path.

    Ultimately each person has the free will to choose their path in life regardless of what befalls them. These groups place that burden primarily on the wider community. This of course will ensure an increase in crime for ultimately offenders must take personal responsibility.

  • The ADDA’s lawsuit will truly pit politics against the law. Yes, Gascon was elected by voters, and yes, Gascon made no secret that he would be a reform-minded politician. But before we get too carried away with the ‘Gascon was elected” argument, let us remember that the will voters is not dispositive. In 1994 voters in Californioa passed Prop 187, a clearly politically motivated bill, albeit from the right side of politics. That was (thankfully) struck down as unconstitutional. Also, Gascon’s no cash bail policy was rejected by Los Angelenos and the entire state, so if Gascon really believes in the ‘will of the voters’ why did he reject that will? Finally, let’s remember why Gascon really won. DA Jackie Lacey had been a truly poor DA, and an equally lackluster campaigner. Lacey relied to heavily on police union money to fund a large portion of her breathtakingly miserable campaign. If she didn’t have the guts and stamina to run a robust campaign and tell voters why they should vote for her, then she shouldn’t be surprised that voters sensed the weakness in what she was offering. Lacey’s management team were, with a few exceptions, nothing but a bunch of ‘yes’ people who for the most part preferred to reject rehabilitation oriented case settlements in favor of prison. Gang enhancements were far too liberally filed, which gave credence to Gascon’s call for the cessation of their use. Lacey’s attempts to deal with crime committed by the homeless, and the mentally ill were doomed to failure. Instead of allowing mental health diversion to be handled locally by each office, she centralized the decision making process to yet another special unit that was simply overwhelmed with the case load, and that resulted in patently mentally ill defendants languishing in County Jail for months before decisions were made, and then further delays while programs could be found to accommodate them. Did you ever hear Lacey confronting the Board of Supervisors and shaming them into not providing sufficient resources for treating homelessness and the mentally ill? No. She was probably too concerned that the Sups would pull their (worthless) political endorsements. We need the DA to be someone who can take the heat, and risk challenging politicians who hold the purse strings that should provide those desperately needed services. Gascon has the guts to do just that. His strategy is simple. He isn’t going to incarcerate homeless and mentally ill criminals. He isn’t going to incarcerate gang members to any greater extent than non-gang member criminals. He isn’t going to incarcerate criminals who cannot afford bail while they await trial. He isn’t going to penalize criminals from committing more crimes while they are released from custody awaiting trial. No. He’s going to let them all out of custody so they can do what they do best – wreak mayhem on Los Angeles. And he’ll carry on doing that until the Board of Supervisors cry ‘enough’ start dealing with the problem they allowed to develop. Maybe they’ll have to twist a few arms in Sacramento and D.C., but unless and until the streets of Los Angeles look like a bad day in Bagdad, nothing will change.

    • Nice try but I’m not buying it. Two words…..San Francisco. If the “research” that Gascon is always referring to had such an overwhelming positive and transformative benefit on that cities criminal justice system, why has the overall quality of life declined within the city to such a degree. Property crimes have steadily increased and a revolving door of the same criminals committing the same crimes over and over again not be held to answer doesn’t go over well for average people trying to make an honest living.

  • Don’t change a damn thing!
    Until these liberal progressive voters get a taste of what they want, they won’t stop the insanity.

    Gas-Con, full speed ahead baby. Release everyone, file on nobody, let the gates of hell into LA County.

  • Editor’s Note:

    Dear “S 1 of 1,” Quite a number of your comments are winding up in the trash because they are clearly inappropriate.

    We have also trashed comments by “Fife,” “Will Ting,” and others for similar reasons. If any of you are unclear why a comment did not go through or was deleted feel free to contact me via email.

    Going forward, comments filled with profanity, sexual innuendos, ad hominem attacks, and/or slander may cause the commenter to be blocked permanently without further warning.

    Thank you in advance for your cooperation.

    C.

    PS: Two more deletes of two new offerings from those who appear not to be listening. That’s strike two.

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