Wednesday, December 16, 2020
Major Controversy Swirls Over Gascón’s Special Directives
Deputy DAs Are Distancing Themselves, Personally, From Motions the Office Obliges Them to Make; Cooley Asserts Gascón Is Worst DA in County’s History; Recall Petition Is Being Drafted
By Roger M. Grace, Editor
District Attorney George Gascón is being derided in posts on a Facebook page. A recall petition is said to be in the offing.
Consternation on the part of deputy district attorneys and judges over “special directives” issued by the new and unconventional Los Angeles County district attorney, George Gascón, is mounting, with deputies balking at orders to seek dismissal of enhancement allegations and judges rankled that they are being asked to act on cases in conformity with a county official’s policies rather than exercising independent judgment.
Some deputies, while seeking dismissal of enhancement allegations as ordered, are letting the judge know that they cannot personally attest to the legitimacy of such an action “in the interests of justice” where the facts do not support leniency. They say that they must seek the dismissals to avoid office discipline, yet distance themselves from the requests in light of their ethical obligation not to lie to the court.
A position paper on the ethical obligations of prosecutors, authored by a deputy who did not reveal his identity, is being circulated. It appears below.
There are reports of the Gascón administration going through deputies’ emails to probe possible disloyalty and gathering transcripts of proceedings to determine possible noncompliance with directives.
“There’s no transparency,” one deputy district attorney said yesterday, speaking on condition of anonymity. “There’s an environment of fear and intimidation and bullying.”
One judge said, in an email to a colleague:
“The looting, rioting, trashing and vandalizing that raged on the streets of Los Angeles continues now in the halls of the office of District Attorney.”
Gascón has instructed deputies not to seek the death penalty in any case, not to seek the posting of bail except in cases involving sexual assaults or violence, and not to move for the trial of any juvenile in adult court.
Developments have included a rebuke of Gascón by former District Attorney Steve Cooley and the formation of a recall movement.
•Cooley was Los Angeles County district attorney from 2000-2012. In 1851, the county’s first district attorney was sworn in (there were two district attorneys before that for Los Angeles and San Diego counties jointly) and Gascón is the 43rd person to head the county department.
“George Gascón proved he was the worst” of the district attorneys “within 2 minutes of being sworn in on December 7th when he issued his 9 Special Directives,” Cooley declared.
Alluding to contributions to the Gascón campaign of more than $2.5 million by billionaire investor George Soros, Cooley added:
“It has been downhill for George ‘Soros’ Gascón since 12:02 pm December 7th, 2020.”
•A recall movement has been launched. It has a page on Facebook, created on Dec. 8, the day after Gascón took office, and claims to have 18,018 total members.
The page says that the petition “is not yet out.” Non-attorney Heather Carbone, who is connected with a local neighborhood watch committee, is administrator of the page.
She recounted on Monday night that a deputy district attorney had asked that a victim be notified, under Marsy’s law, of the request to dismiss an enhancement allegation, in order to speak against the action. The post says:
“This Public Defender objected to continuing the case for that purpose. The Judge allowed the case to be continued to another day for the Victim. The Public Defender then ordered a transcript of the proceedings so she can report the DDA to Gascon’s administration.”
Carbone also reported Monday:
“Just today: Judge Daviann Mitchell….DUI with major injuries to the victim. Victim is permanently disabled. Defendant plead guilty to the DUI and admitted the GBI [great bodily injury] allegation. He was to receive Mid-Term plus the GBI allegation. Defendant was out on bond awaiting sentencing, which was supposed to be today. Defendant failed to show for court. Gascon still ordered the DA to dismiss the GBI allegation even though he voluntarily pled to it and failed to show up for court! The judge denied Gascón’s motion, and sentenced him to the max!”
•An online form for reporting deviations by deputy district attorneys from office policies, or denials of prosecution motions pursuant to such policies by judges, has been taken down.
Los Angeles Deputy Public Defender Tiffiny Townend Blacknell had dispatched an email, with a link to the form to other deputies in her office, as well as selected criminal defense lawyers. Some recipients discerned that Blacknell was working in tandem with Gascón’s staff.
Blacknell was a supporter of Gascón in his campaign for office and was named as a member of his transition team. In response to an inquiry by the METNEWS, she said in an email late Monday:
“I have no comment.”
The District Attorney’s Office has failed to respond to inquiries.
•Two deputy district attorneys in the Pomona branch, Phil Stirling and Sarika Kim, yesterday asked Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lisa Lench to drop an enhancement allegation, but put in writing why the facts do not justify such an action, saying:
“Julian Hamori-Andrade was beaten, kidnapped and murdered on May 28, 2018. He was attacked, beaten, robbed, kidnapped and killed because the defendants believed he stole a small quantity of their marijuana. At the initial crime scene, defendants Matthew Capiendo and Hercules Balaskas beat and stabbed victim Andrade for several minutes. The victim lost consciousness. Believing he was dead, the defendants placed the victim into the bed of defendant Balaskas’ truck and drove him into the mountains to dump his body off a cliff. Defendants Balaskas and Capiendo drove the truck, while defendants Amigon, Elmendorf and Williams followed in Amigon’s Honda. During the drive to the mountains, the defendants observed victim Andrade moving in the bed of the truck.
“At the secondary crime scene in the mountains several miles up Highway 39, the defendants kicked and stomped victim Andrade until he was again believed to be dead. The victim was rolled off of the cliff. Victim Andrade was then heard making sounds that alerted the defendants that he was still alive. In an effort to again finish him off, defendant Capiendo went down the hill and continued to stomp the victim until he was again believed to be dead. Victim Andrade’s body was found on May 30,2018. The cause of death was blunt force trauma, stab wounds, and exposure.”
Each signed a motion saying that “[w]ithout further guidance from my Office, I am not able to reconcile office policy with” professional obligations. They pointed to Business & Professions Code §1385 which forbids attorneys “[t]o employ, for the purpose of maintaining the causes confided to him or her those means only as are consistent with truth” and requires that they “never to seek to mislead the judge or any judicial officer by an artifice or false statement of fact or law.”
They also noted Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 3.3 which also forbids making false statements to a court.
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