On Wednesday morning, a union representing about 800 prosecutors filed a civil lawsuit against their newly-elected boss, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón, alleging he has ignored laws mandated by constitutional and statutory authority.
The Association of Deputy District Attorneys for Los Angeles County (ADDA) is seeking a writ of mandate from the court, which would compel D.A. Gascón to rescind several of his new policies, declaring them “invalid and illegal.”
The lawsuit targets a set of special directives Gascón issued after taking the oath of office on December 7. The orders put his plan to increase public safety “without overincarcerating” into action. They included ending all sentencing enhancements, which are intended to act as extra punishments, added on to the charge of an underlying offense. After a national outcry, Gascón later amended that policy, allowing enhancements for cases involving “the most vulnerable” victims, including hate-motivated crimes, child abuse, and human sex trafficking.
Still, there are more than 100 enhancements in California’s penal code. Prosecutors are still barred from pursuing them for allegations of using a handgun in a crime, defendants listed in the state’s gang database, or for having prior felony convictions.
“Los Angeles County prosecutors have been placed in an impossible position,” said ADDA Vice President Eric Siddall. “Do we follow our 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? We’re asking a court to answer those questions.”
This also went down today. I picked the wrong week to try and unplug, huh? The @LACountyADDA – the union which represents deputy D.A.'s and staunchly opposed Gascon's candidacy – has sued over the legality of his policy barring sentencing enhancements. https://t.co/xvS1KFac1C
— James Queally (@JamesQueallyLAT) December 30, 2020
The Los Angeles Times reports:
The union argues that prosecutors should pursue or forgo sentencing enhancements using “case-by-case discretion,” basing their decisions on the circumstances of a crime and a defendant, not “rubber stamp blanket prosecutorial policies barring the wholesale enforcement of criminal laws.”
The union asserts that Gascón’s prohibition on enhancements for prior strikes violates the state’s three strikes law, which, in the union’s view, requires prosecutors to seek longer sentences for defendants with previous convictions…
The union also contends that Gascón, a local executive branch official, is encroaching on the authority of the courts in ordering his deputies to move to withdraw enhancements allegations. If a judge refuses those motions – as several have in recent weeks – line prosecutors have been instructed to file new charging documents without the enhancements. In doing so, the union argues, the district attorney’s office is making an end-run around the courts’ authority.
Gascón did not campaign on ending all sentencing enhancements, and his plan to do so, along with other elements of his progressive agenda, has been met with immediate resistance. The new directives sparked a revolt from local law enforcement groups and several deputy district attorneys. Victims’ families and prosecutors connected with media outlets, and their stories helped create new critics, many of whom were uninterested during the election.
In a statement provided to The Daily Wire on Wednesday, D.A. Gascón said:
Data shows these harsh tactics compromise our community’s long-term health and safety, create more hardened criminals and victims, and therefore are not in the interests of justice.
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. They are public servants who have earned our utmost respect and gratitude. They certainly have mine – and a sincere invitation to join me in making these much-needed changes. As we’ve seen in recent weeks, this new approach will take some fine-tuning and a tolerance for change. I invite open and respectful debate based on 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.
According to ADDA, the Los Angeles Superior Court set an expedited briefing schedule on Wednesday afternoon, and a pre-trial hearing has been scheduled for February 2, 2021.