Motion Asserts That Former Deputy Public Defender Alicia Blair Is Allied With Defendant, Convicted of Murder
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brian C. Yep will be asked this morning to recuse a prosecutor who, according to a motion on behalf of the family of a murdered man, is a former deputy public defender who, after becoming a special assistant to District Attorney George Gascón, continues to fight for the interests of criminal defendants.
The recusal is sought in a case where, at stake, is whether a man who committed a gang-related slaying two months shy of his 18th birthday will remain in prison, potentially for life, or be freed in less than a year—with the prosecutor favoring his release.
Attorney Kathleen Cady of the Dordulian Law Group in Glendale is seeking the banishment of Deputy District Attorney Alisa Blair from the case of People v. Andrew Cachu. In her motion, filed Friday, Cady argues that while the recusal of prosecutors should be a rare occurrence, Blair, through “sustained efforts and actions…, both surreptitiously and overtly” has “effectively abandoned the prosecutorial duty to seek justice and to avoid the appearance of impropriety,” necessitating her ouster.
Potential Life Sentence
Family members of Louis Amela, who was fatally shot in the back by one of two bullets fired at him on March 31, 2015, by Cachu—at the age of 17 years and 10 months—want the court to keep in place Cachu’s 2017 sentence by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Blanchard of 50 years to life in state prison. Under a law not in effect at the time of the procceedings before Blanchard (but retroactive to cases not yet final), that outcome would require a finding by Yep pursuant to Welfare & Institutions Code §707 that a transfer of the case from Juvenile Court to the adult court was appropriate.
However, Blair has told Yep: “We will not be conducting a transfer hearing at any point.”
Blair has boasted, according to the motion, of being the principal architect of a special directive issued by Gascón on Dec. 7, his first day in office—along with several other decrees (the enforcement of some having since been preliminarily enjoined). Gascón’s “youth policy” says, in part:
“The office will immediately END the practice of sending youth to the adult court system. All pending motions to transfer youth to adult court jurisdiction shall be withdrawn at the soonest available court date, including agreeing to defense counsel’s request to advance.”
Assisted ‘Other Side’
Cady’s motion points out that Blair left the Public Defender’s Office on Jan. 3, but that when the special directive was drafted and when it was issued last year, Blair “was still a Deputy Public Defender,” remarking:
“The import of this lack of impartiality cannot be overstated. Ms. Blair wrote the policy which governs the entire District Attorney’s Office handling of juvenile cases while still employed by the Public Defender’s Office!”
If the case is not transferred by Yep, who sits in Lancaster, to the adult court, the release of Cachu in the near future will be mandatory given that jurisdiction of a juvenile court cannot extend to a person who has reached the age of 25. Cachu is 24.
The motion sets forth:
“All of the above illustrates a shocking departure from a prosecutor’s sacrosanct obligation to ethically defend victims of violent crime. The impropriety of Mr. Gascon’s policies and Ms. Blair’s actions, therefore, cannot be overstated. We have a sitting District Attorney who actively colluded with an employee of the Public Defender’s Office to write and now implement policy which undermines the efficacy of prosecutions [of] serious and violent felonies committed by juveniles.”
“That same former Deputy Public Defender has been communicating with the defendant’s family, but did not speak to the victim’s family.”
That allegation is founded on a declaration by homicide detective Teri Berstein of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department who was assigned to the murder case from the outset. Her declaration sets forth (with “S/” respresenting “suspect” and “V/” connoting “victim”) :
“On Monday May 10, 2021, I was present in court. In the hallway outside the courtroom at approximately 0830 Hours, I heard Ms. Blair telling an LADA office staff that she spent her entire career as a defense attorney and she specialized in getting juvenile cases dismissed.
“During court Blair went out into the hallway to call Defense Attorney Nadler. While in the hall I saw Blair interact with the mother of S/Cachu.
“In the courtroom I attempted to introduce myself to Blair as the handling detective on the case. She scowled at me and turned and walked away. She did not interact with me any further during the duration of court day.”
The declaration continues:
“In the court room. I observed Ms. Blair once again interact with the mother of S/Cachu.
“The victim’s family was introduced to the Judge in open court by Attorney Cady. Ms. Blair made no effort to communicate with the family of V/Amela at any point during the court day.
“Ms. Blair introduced the suspect’s mother to the Judge in court.
“I observed Ms. Blair speaking with the Suspect Cachu’s mother (Bertha Ruth Cachu) in the court room and in the hallway. I heard Ms. Blair tell S/Cachu’s mother something to the effect of ‘Don’t worry, he will get out.’ ”
Family Members ‘Devastated’
Cady said in an email:
“The victim’s family is devastated and feels that they have been abandoned and betrayed by the District Attorney’s Office and the criminal justice system. They were traumatized when Louis was murdered by the defendant. They have now been retraumatized by Gascon’s policies and believe these policies will not result in justice; his policies are unfair and dangerous to the community.”
Former District Attorney Steve Cooley told the METNEWS:
“The recusal is beyond just another motion—it is telling a story.
“The conflict posed by Blair’s actions as a prosecutor is palpable. The State Bar should be looking hard at all involved—including Gascón. This is not the only instance of conflicts posed by Gascón’s high level appointments of ideological career public defenders. Judges ruling on such disqualification motions should, at the very least, conduct hearings.”
Family Members’ Standing
Whether Yip will even consider Cady’s motion is uncertain. Various motions challenging Gascón’s policies have been made on behalf of a victim’s family members and, so far, no Los Angeles Superior Court judge has recognized standing on their part, rejecting arguments that Marsy’s Law—the “Victims’ Bill of Rights,” enacted by voters on Nov. 4, 2008—impliedly confers standing.
Cady’s motion is pursuant to Penal Code §1424 which does not specify by whom a motion for the recusal of a prosecutor may be made.
The motion sets forth:
“The District Attorney’s position is now firmly aligned with the defense. The criminal justice system is an adversary system requiring a prosecutor and a defense attorney. That is how the system was designed and works. The system does not work if there are two defense attorneys and no prosecutor. Gascon’s policies violate the law and his delegation of these cases leaves no one representing victims.”
Mechanism for Removal
It goes on to say:
“We respectfully submit that a crime victim’s constitutional ability to enforce his or her enumerated rights should include a mechanism for the Court to remove a prosecutor and/or prosecuting agency that has flagrantly violated those rights.”
Should Yep not recognize standing on the part of the family members, he could still disqualify Blair on his own motion, following the example of Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rob B. Villeza. In January, Villa granted a motion of the District Attorney’s Office to drop special circumstances and sentencing-enhancement allegations in a murder case, spurned a motion by the victim’s family members for reconsideration based on their lack of standing, but determined on May 24, sua sponte, that he erred in January and the allegations must be reinstated.
Appeals Court Order
Cady has also contended that Blair is seeking a defiance of the order by the Court of Appeal for this district on Nov. 27, 2017. In an unpublished opinion., Div. Five affirmed Cachu’s convictions but, the majority held, a remand was necessary to accord the defendant the benefit of Proposition 57, enacted by voters on Nov. 8, 2016, vesting in judges the power to determine whether a person whose crimes were allegedly committed at ages 14 to 17 are to be tried in adult court.
The opinion declares:
“The cause is remanded to the juvenile court with directions to conduct a fitness hearing under Welfare and Institutions Code section 707, if the prosecution moves for such a hearing, no later than 90 days from the date the remittitur issues.”
Although the appeals court accorded the District Attorney’s Office discretion whether to seek transfer or not, the discretion to do so was exercised by the office prior to Gascón taking over the office on Dec. 7. Cady advised that Yep has held that, under the dispositional paragraph of the opinion, he is obliged to hold a hearing, notwithstanding Blair’s effort to withdraw the transfer request.
The motion declares:
“[W]e ask this Court to disqualify Ms. Blair from this case. If the District Attorney’s Office continues to refuse to conduct a transfer hearing as required by the Court of Appeal Opinion/Remittitur, the victim requests that the court disqualify the entire District Attorney’s Office.”
A phone call to Blair yesterday afternoon seeking comment was not returned.
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