By a MetNews Staff Writer
Los Angeles County’s new district attorney, George Gascón, has blacklisted at least one Los Angeles Superior Court judge—Shellie Samuels, who sits in Van Nuys-West—based on her refusal to strike an enhancement allegation in an information filed under the administration of the previous chief prosecutor, Jackie Lacey.
Some critics say that while blanket affidaviting of judicial officers is nothing new, use of a peremptory challenge, pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure §170.6, based on the refusal of a judge to bow to sentencing directives of the district attorney is extraordinary.
Gascón on Dec. 7—his first day in office—issued nine “special directives” including one that says “sentence enhancements or other sentencing allegations, including under the Three Strikes law, shall not be filed in any cases and shall be withdrawn in pending matters.” A tenth order was issued on Tuesday mandating that deputies make a report to their head deputy of any judge who won’t allow an enhancement allegation to be stricken or an amended information or indictment be filed.
Interim Chief Deputy Interim Joseph F. Iniguez said in an email, at 4:40 p.m. on Wednesday, to John Morris the head deputy in Van Nuys, after Samuels declined to delete an enhancement allegation from the information in a case:
“I reviewed the transcript and discussed this matter with the DA. The judge justified her denial by stating (in part) that she disagrees with the DA’s policy changes. Based on this justification it shows that she is prejudiced against our office.
“Please ensure that no other matters are assigned to her court and follow the procedures outlined in CCP 170.6.”
Former District Attorney Steve Cooley said yesterday:
“I have never heard of a ‘blanket affidavit’ being used against a judge for ‘refusing to adhere to a policy promulgated by the district attorney.’ I have seen ‘blanket’ use of CCP 170.6 by individual deputy public defenders.
“What Iniguez is doing is sending a message to superior courts judges: ‘Bend to Gascón’s will or suffer consequences.’ ”
He said this is “consistent” with a tweet by a member of Gascón’s transition team—Deputy Public Defender Tiffiny Townend Blacknell—of “flipping the bench” in the 2022 election “if judges did not follow the policy dictates (illegal and unethical I might add) of Gascón.”
‘Rogue District Attorney’
A judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court also said the approach taken by Gascón is unorthodox, and decried his willingness to have declarations filed, “signed under penalty of perjury,” based on supposed bias in retaliation for the bench officer following the law “and not the illegal policy directives of a rogue District Attorney.”
The jurist commented:
“In my almost 33 years in this profession, one year as a defense attorney and almost 26 as a prosecutor and 6 as a jurist, I have never seen nor heard of an attorney filing paper because a judge refused to follow policy of the District Attorney or Public Defender.
“The filing of a 170.6 is serious. The attorney claims the judge is biased and declares so under penalty of perjury. In the DAs Office, we did not have discretion to file paper unless we had approval from our head deputy.”
The judge noted:
“In practice, the prosecution rarely if ever filed a 170.6. In comparison, the filing of paper was more commonly practiced by deputy public defenders and private defense attorneys but it is not common. Usually, a 170.6 is filed against a judge as slap to his or her face for not ruling in favor of the aggrieved attorney in a previous hearing. Attorneys fear reprisals because his or her case might just find its way to a judge not as favorably disposed to their side. For example, I’ve seen deputy public defenders file paper because a judge rarely struck strikes but not infrequently, the file would be sent to a judge who was even more prosecution oriented.
“In my career I only filed paper once because the judge dismissed my trial despite my presenting valid service of a properly subpoenaed victim. I had good cause to trail but rather than take it up on a writ for abuse of discretion, my head deputy authorized the filing of paper in my next trial before that judge.”
Judicial Officer Comments
One judicial officer had this to say:
“I am a former DDA. I have never in my 20+ years practicing in the criminal justice system heard of such a play by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office or any local prosecutorial office.
“As we have all seen and experienced in the past, the District Attorney papers a judicial officer when the office takes the position that a particular bench officer routinely fails to follow the law, not DA policy.
“It is improper for District Attorney to retaliate in this way against the bench when the court disagrees with DA policy which is to ignore the law. It is well settled maxim in our criminal justice system to follow the law even if we disagree with it. These rules apply to all persons coming before the court, including justice partners...DAs included.”
A deputy district attorney had harsh words for Gascón and two of his lieutenants.
He noted that Iniguez is “a Grade II DDA with six years experience at the office and the sum total of four felony trials to his credit,” and said:
“His qualifications for the job of chief deputy are non-existent and provide an insight into George Gascón’s promotion criteria—be a ‘yes’ man person and an ideologue. The email was addressed to the head deputy district attorney (a Grade V) at Van Nuys, and concerned Judge Samuels in Dept. 112 where preliminary hearings are conducted. It is an insult to all DDAs that such an unskilled person holds the number 2 position at the top of the chain of the command. Equally troubling is the kind of blind obedience that is apparently expected by the new administration. We all know where ‘I was only obeying orders’ leads.”
The prosecutor derided the instruction from Iniguez to “ensure that no other matters are assigned” to Samuel’s court,” saying:
“Apparently Mr. Iniguez believes that the DA’s Office can assign cases to particular courts. That is called forum shopping and it is not only forbidden, but is also not within the control of the DA’s Office. Cases are assigned to courts by the Clerk’s Office based on a numerical index.”
The deputy added:
“That part of his instruction is as nonsensical as it is revealing of Iniguez’s lack of experience and willingness to embrace the kind of Marxist/Leninist thuggery that is the hallmark of the Gascón administration.”
This critic, too, said Gascón’s approach to disqualification is unconventional, relating:
“I have served under three district attorneys, and have never heard of such an ill-conceived use of 170.6.”
Atmosphere of Fear
There is tension among deputies, the prosecutor observed, explaining:
“Most DDAs are fearful of retaliation from Gascon and his acolytes—Iniguez and [Mario] Trujillo, to name but two.”
The tension will be heightened, the source predicted, if “ultra progressive members of the Public Defender’s Office” join the prosecution office, as rumored, the prosecutor said, elaborating:
“As I understand it, a number of DPDs are going to the DA’s Office to fill discretionary positions. Presumably, these DPDs are taking a leave of absence from the PDs Office.
“Regardless of the cordial relationship many DDAs enjoy with their DPD counterparts, the PDs who are forming this insurgency are anything but friendly; they are the ultra-progressive ideologues, harboring ferociously anti-law enforcement beliefs, better known as ‘true believers.’ ”
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