Deputy District Attorneys Sue New Los Angeles DA

January 1, 2021 Updated: January 1, 2021

The Association of Deputy District Attorneys (ADDA) for Los Angeles County has filed a civil lawsuit alleging that new policies enacted by recently elected District Attorney George Gascón violate California state law and place prosecutors in an impossible position.

“Do we follow our legal and ethical responsibilities and risk getting disciplined, even fired, by our new boss?” ADDA Vice President Eric Siddall said in a statement. “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 suit, filed Dec. 30, argues that Gascón’s directives overstep his executive duty to enforce the law. Specifically, ADDA takes issues with the DA’s Dec. 7 directive prohibiting prosecutors from filing enhancements, which are additional charges or penalties based on the gravity of a crime or the defendant’s criminal history.

In a Dec. 30 statement, Gascón reiterated the same perspective he has expressed on several occasions.

“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,” he wrote. “During those years, enhancements and strike allegations have never been shown to enhance our safety. In fact, studies have shown excessive sentences exacerbate recidivism and create more victims in the future.”

He added: “After a summer of unrest, Los Angeles County voters embraced this new, modern approach. The will of the voters must not be mistaken as a commentary on the hundreds of Deputy DAs who labor, day in and day out, to protect the public. … As we’ve seen in recent weeks, this new approach will take some fine-tuning and a tolerance for change.

“Despite today’s legal challenge, I believe a collaborative path exists to achieve these goals based on what research shows, what voters want, and what LA County deserves.”

ADDA holds that a blanket prohibition on enhancements is impracticable and must be based on individual circumstances. The DDAs allege Gascón has essentially taken on the role of a legislative body.

They are seeking a restraining order to prevent Gascón from “putting his personally-held views as to which laws are or are not good policy … above the laws enacted by the state legislature and by the voters,” according to a Dec. 30 ADDA statement.

“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,” Michele Hanisee, president of the ADDA, said in the statement.

Meanwhile, a trio of legal experts from Northern California released a joint statement criticizing the lawsuit and standing behind Gascón.

“We are confident this attempt to obstruct the will of the voters will be struck down,” said Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California–Berkeley Law School; David Mills, a professor at Stanford Law School; and Michael Romano, director of Stanford Law School’s Three Strikes Project.

The statement says the California Supreme Court has held that “California district attorneys ‘are given complete authority to enforce the state criminal law in their counties.'”

It says the ADDA is being inconsistent because for decades it has remained silent while former DAs “often dismissed enhancements and Three Strikes allegations in the interests of justice.” the Three Strikes law gives defendants a sentence of 25 years to life if convicted of three violent or severe felonies.

“That the Association 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,” it states. “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.”

Some victims’ families have spoken out against Gascón’s reforms, which give leniency to those who committed crimes against their loved ones. They say enhancements should continue to be allowed, applying additional penalties for suspects whose crimes are especially heinous or who have a serious criminal history.

Gascón has called the application of enhancements a racist practice. He said in a Dec. 16 Zoom meeting they are “unethical” and “racist in application.” He said in a Dec. 18 letter they are “more likely to be applied to defendants who are African American or mentally ill.”

Former Los Angeles DA Steve Cooley is among Gascón vocal critics. He called Gascón’s reforms unconstitutional and unethical in an interview with The Epoch Times in December.

“They’ve taken an ideology and they’re forcing it onto a system of laws,” Cooley said.

The DDAs have spoken out against not only the reforms, but also Gascón’s methods of applying them. He has directed DDAs to read out scripts in any case where enhancements may be applied.

A portion of the script reads, “It is the position of this office that [these laws] are unconstitutional … [they] provide no deterrent effect or public safety benefit of incapacitation—in fact, the opposite may be true, wasting critical financial state and local resources.”

DDAs have also said they are being monitored and intimidated.

Gascón has not responded to The Epoch Times’ inquiries on these matters.

City News Service contributed to this report.