LA County District Attorney Sued by Deputy DA for Defamation

By Linda Jiang
Linda Jiang
Linda Jiang
September 13, 2021 Updated: September 13, 2021

A veteran prosecutor on Sept. 7 filed a lawsuit against Los Angeles County, alleging he has been defamed and retaliated against by George Gascón, the district attorney in Los Angeles County, for being an outspoken critic of Gascón.

A day after formally filing his lawsuit, Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami of Los Angeles County detailed his allegations against Gascón at a press release in front of the Hall of Justice in downtown Los Angeles.

“I’ve served the community for over 15 years fighting for children, fighting for abused children. And it’s sad that in a matter of about eight months, somebody has destroyed all of that,” Hatami told The Epoch Times.

He further stated that many of Gascón’s policies have problems. “A judge already said he was making us do things illegal, unethical, and morally wrong,” he said.

In his indictment, Hatami specifically mentioned Gascón’s promise to stop enforcing California’s three-strikes law, end use of the death penalty, and create a review board to hold law enforcement officials more accountable.

Commonly known as “Three Strikes and You’re Out,” the three-strike law intends to intensify cracking down on repeat felony offenders, giving them a prison sentence of 25 years to life if they are convicted of three violent or serious crimes.

Hatami told The Epoch Times that Gascón had forced him to withdraw felony charges—such as causing great bodily injury—against offenders, even when evidence was too substantial to disregard.

“There are cases that I’ve filed, where I’ve gone to the autopsy, where I’ve been presented evidence in a preliminary hearing or grand jury, and he wants me to remove strikes, even though the evidence 100 percent supports that,” Hatami said.

Continued Retaliation

Hamati said that he suffered retaliation for criticizing and refusing to comply with Gascón’s “illegal” policies.

His attorney, Brian Claypool, listed five causes of action in the complaint, including retaliation, whistleblower retaliation, defamation Per Se, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and racial discrimination.

“Yesterday we filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit on behalf of Jon Hatami,” Claypool announced, adding that Hatami also sued Los Angeles County and Maxwell Szabo, spokesman for Gascón’s transition team.

“Mr. Szabo, on a local news station, made a direct comment that Jon Hatami is delusional and could be unfit for his practice of law. That statement alone is what’s called ‘Defamation Per Se,’ which means when we pursue this multimillion-dollar lawsuit, we don’t even need extrinsic evidence to prove damages,” Claypool explained.

A veteran prosecutor for the District Attorney’s Office who serves in the county’s Complex Child Abuse Unit, Hatami has handled more than 70 child abuse and murder cases and prosecuted the criminals involved. In particular, he was the prosecutor in the case of Jose Cuatro and Maria Juarez, a couple charged with murder and torture in the death of their 4-year-old son Noah.

Hatami was also one of two prosecutors in the high-profile trial of Isauro Aguirre and Pearl Fernandez, who were sentenced to death and life in prison without parole, respectively, for the torture and murder of Fernandez’s 8-year-old son Gabriel in May 2013.

On Nov. 18 of last year, Gascón said in an interview on Spectrum News 1 the only reason Hatami sought the death penalty in the Gabriel Fernandez case was because his ego had been hurt by Aguirre, that Aguirre had rubbed Hatami the wrong way, and that Aguirre had refused Hatami’s plea deal and Hatami sought the death penalty against him in retaliation. The statements were “knowingly false” and defamatory, according to the suit.

Hatami told reporters that Pearl Fernandez, who was recently sentenced to life imprisonment, requested a re-sentence under Gascón’s new policies, but he was warned by Gascón not to oppose Fernandez’s plea.

As soon as Gascón was sworn in as the county’s district attorney in December last year, he announced sweeping changes, including the elimination of cash bail for misdemeanor and some felony offenses and ending the death penalty.

The district attorney of Sacramento County, Anne Marie Schubert, once criticized Gascón for undermining the judicial system.

Previously, the Association of Deputy District Attorneys (ADDA) of Los Angeles County brought a lawsuit against Gascón in December 2020. At the end of July, two veteran deputy prosecutors of Los Angeles County also accused Gascón of using his power to retaliate against subordinates.

Presently, 28 cities in Los Angeles County have voted no confidence in him. A “Recall George Gascón” campaign initiated by the voters is currently underway.

In response to The Epoch Times’ inquiry regarding Hatami’s complaint, Gascón’s office replied in an email, “Our office declines comment.”

Linda Jiang
Linda Jiang