Former District Attorney Steve Cooley Says Hostile Sentiments Toward the New Top Prosecutor Are Widely Held Among Deputies; One Prosecutor Estimates That Only 10 Lawyers in the Office Support New DA’s Agenda
By ROGER M. GRACE, Editor
Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón, in a bid to mollify deputies—riled over his “special directives,” some of which are seen as unlawful—dispatched a conciliatory New Year’s Eve office-wide email that had the opposite effect of what was intended, drawing a hard-hitting retort from one recipient, denouncing the new boss as a failure, with that communiqué becoming widely circulated and serving as a rallying cry.
The unsigned message, addressed to Gascón, says that the deputy district attorneys (“DDAs”) are solidly opposed to his policies, which entail leniency in sentencing without the exercise of discretion in individual cases, and that their “distrust for you as their leader is rampant and irreparable.” The policies were put in place by Gascón on Dec. 7, after he was sworn into office, with some of his “special directives” being challenged by the Association of Deputy District Attorneys (“ADDA”) in a Los Angeles Superior Court action seeking an injunction and other relief.
The posting on Google continues:
“You have destroyed your relationship with the prosecutors of this office in a matter of mere weeks. It is a failure of leadership in record time in an institution of great consequence. You are an outsider and an interloper that will never be accepted.”
The statement advises Gascón, who on Nov. 3 defeated incumbent Jackie Lacey in her bid for a third term:
“DDAs view you as a fraud and a self interested politician who is uneducated in law and policy and does not care about public safety or the needs of victims. You are deeply disrespected. We think you are a small man interloping behind Jackie Lacey’s desk.”
Over the holiday weekend, links to the Google post proliferated. Within eight hours of the “Recall George Gascón” Facebook page making reference to it on New Year’s Day, 207 comments had been posted there.
Emails—containing a link or bearing the text, plucked from the posting—were broadly disseminated, “going viral,” in the limited context of the denunciation of Gascón radiating to members of the Los Angeles legal community and others concerned with the local justice system. Gascón’s email and the anonymous response to it appears below.
Steve Cooley, who served as district attorney in 2000-2012 and has kept in contact with persons in the D.A.’s Office, told the METNEWS that the detractor’s blast at Gascón “clearly and forcefully expresses the sentiments of the vast majority of DDAs.”
A DDA remarked:
“Whoever authored what is fast becoming known as ‘the long read’ writes with the kind of insight, authority, and experience that comes from decades of upholding the law, maintaining public safety, and standing up for the rights of crime victims. It sums up the feelings of the vast majority of DDAs I have spoken to, and correctly describes the palpable hatred, distrust, and disdain for Gascón and his administration.”
(Further observations from that person appear in a separate post.)
Another deputy—who told of having discussed the posting with “easily about 50” others in the office—said:
“That letter very much reflects what people are thinking.”
The prosecutor maintained that the critique is “spot on,” adding, “I haven’t heard one person complain” about the content.
Gascón, in his New Year’s Eve well-wishing message, told the DDAs: “I want to thank you for the many emails and messages of support.” The prosecutor with whom the METNEWS spoke questioned the veracity of the implied representation by Gascón of widespead support within his office.
There are about 950 deputies in the office, the DDA noted, saying that there are “probably 10 people in the office” who are allies of Gascón—some of them “maybe because they’re opportunistic.”
Mario Trujillo, who is a special advisor to Gascón, was put in that category. The prosecutor noted that Trujillo in recent months spoke out in favor of a tough-on-crime approach, now siding with Gascón’s contrary philosophy.
(On March 20, Trujillo posted on Facebook: “I personally support the idea of government executions of humans who kill children.” He now backs Gascón’s office policy against seeking the death penalty in any case.)
The 2,501-word rebuke to Gascón, while blunt, mentions no one by name. However, it is unmistakably referring to Interim Chief Deputy Joseph Iniguez in pointing to “the single person designated by you as a decision maker” and noting that he has “a mere 5 years prosecution experience.”
It tells the new D.A.:
“You bring in defense attorneys to fill top posts without explaining why you would bring people who have adverse interests in the courtroom to ours. You may have legitimate reasons for doing so, they may be able to add to your re-imagination of this office, but you neglect to appreciate how offensive this is, especially when you have not consulted any of those from within on the myriad of subjects that they have expertise in and you have selected no persons from within this office to help you transition besides your two political colleagues.”
The defense lawyers being brought aboard are, according to multiple sources, Deputy Public Defenders Tiffiny Townend Blacknell, who is to become Gascón’s director of community relations, and Alisa Blair, whose role is unknown, with their colleague Diana Teran also possibly switching sides. The “political colleagues” are apparently Iniguez, who on Nov. 21, 2019, withdrew as a candidate for district attorney and endorsed Gascón, and Trujillo, a 2012 candidate for the post, who abandoned his campaign effort and supported the ill-starred bid by then-Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, and who was elected in November as mayor of Downey.
Reprimanded Head Deputy
The admonishment mentions:
“You direct a senior and beloved manager to dismiss a rightfully filed case, and, when he asks you to assist him in understanding the legally justifiable reason that he must give to the judge to support his request to dismiss, you not only refuse to share this with him, you undermine him in front of the entire courthouse he must manage within, indeed, in front of the entire Office (because, sir, this, too spreads virally within minutes) and then forthwith issue him a letter of reprimand for attempting to do what the law requires. If any of this is a mistake, you do not speak to the DDAs in this office to clear up these misperceptions.”
That was an allusion to the scolding reportedly administered to Richard Doyle, the head deputy in Compton, who is said to have resisted moving for dismissal of charges against a man who, in connection with a protest against the Sheriff’s Department, allegedly sought to affect a train wreck.
DDA Hatami Slammed
The posted message also makes this point:
“You publicly issued a statement to the media calling one of your most ethical, hardworking and respected prosecutors ‘delusional’ and questioned his fitness to practice law because you did not like that he acted according to what he believed prosecutorial ethics required.... It increases our solidarity against you.”
The prosecutor who was publicly denigrated is Jon Hatami. He started the fight by voicing, in various statements to the news media, opposition to Gascón’s policies, including across-the-board leniency for convicted felons. Hatami said of the district attorney, on Dec. 17:
“He just has a blanket policy for every case, no matter what the facts are or aren’t. The same thing applies to a drug case as a murder case and that’s unreasonable and doesn’t make any sense.”
In an interview with Fox 11’s reporter Gina Silva the following day, Maxwell Szabo, a San Francisco political strategist/publicist, acting as Gascón’s spokesperson, countered Hatami’s statements. In particular, he denied that the DA’s Office was behind Blacknell’s efforts to recruit deputy public defenders to report prosecutors who did not abide by the special directives, such as those prohibiting the seeking of sentence enhancements and mandating motions to withdraw those previously pled under Lacey.
Szabo declared that Hatami’s “delusional theories raise questions as to one’s fitness to practice law.”
The ADDA issued a statement saying:
“Deputy District Attorney Hatami is a tireless advocate for victims. He is a veteran prosecutor with a wealth of experience in prosecuting child murderers. As a prosecutor, he has tried over seventy cases before a jury. This attack by Mr. Szabo, who was admitted to the bar in May 2019, who is not a prosecutor nor even employed by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office, and who represents that he is the spokesperson for Gascón’s ‘transition team,’ is not only unwarranted but entirely without merit.”
Middle Finger Extended
The anti-Gascón website RedState.com, for one, provided a link to the Google posting. It quotes one anonymous DDA as summarizing that posting by saying:
“Gascón’s like a guy who walks toward you with a middle finger extended. Then he smiles and says ‘let’s be friends’—as he slowly and deliberately extends his other middle finger.”
The website’s managing editor, Jennifer Van Laar, comments:
“It seems that internal and external opposition to George Gascón is growing exponentially by the day.”
There is no recall petition, yet. The “Recall George Gascón” Facebook page explains:
“We can’t even start the petition process until DA Gascón is in office for 90 days. 90 days from his swearing in is…March 7, 2021.”
There are 36,370 members of the Facebook “group” who are authorized to post messages on the page.
Deputy DAs Weigh In on Controversy
Wooing DPDs to the DA’s Office
(The writer—quoted in the news article above as making reference to “the long read”—offers observations from the vantage point of a veteran prosecutor.)
uite how far individual DDAs will go to uphold the law in defiance of Gascón’s orders will likely depend on the success of the litigation launched by the ADDA, as well as any sign from the Board of Supervisors that they might put the brakes on Gascón’s toxic recruitment of certain members of the PD’s Office.
It should be remembered that individuals from the PD’s Office have, in the past, resigned from the PD’s Office to join the DA’s Office, and vice versa. Those were, however, individuals who had decided that they wanted to be prosecutors or defense attorneys. They fast became trusted, loyal, and dedicated members of their chosen side of counsel table.
The same is not the case with the individuals who are supposedly being brought in by Gascón. They are hard core, dyed in the wool, radicals who are perceived as having no interest in protecting public safety and no desire to prosecute criminals. Based on their social media statements, their interest appears to be maintaining the ridiculous narrative that casts criminals and their dysfunctional, enabling families as ‘victims.’ Ask Ms. Tiffiny Blacknell a question or two and it will likely become apparent that she really does view the DA’s Office as nothing but a bunch of evil racists who protect systemically racist police forces. Blacknell and her ilk likely believe minority communities to be more at risk from racist cops who kill gentle giants, rather than being at risk from and held hostage by the generation-deep gang culture that delivers more dead minority community members than anything else.
Criminals have rights, and those rights are properly the domain of and protected by the defense bar. Criminals have needs and those are properly the concern of mental health workers, affordable housing providers, and social workers. The DA’s Office is neither the organization nor the place for criminals’ rights and needs to be catered to.
If our summer of discontent was a symptom of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Gascón administration is analogous to a freak mutation of a virus. One that exists solely to destroy the DA’s Office as it is the stumbling block to the fulfillment of [campaign financier George] Soros and the BLM movement’s goal—to decriminalize anti-social criminal conduct and thereby allow these ‘justice involved persons’ to wreak havoc on the ‘white-privileged’ communities who insist on reporting crime, rather than sitting around a camp fire with their assailants singing Kumbaya. It’s the kind of payback that ‘social justice’ demands. Declining to prosecute those crimes to the fullest extent is the payback Gascón will deliver to Soros and BLM. Gascón will take the focus away from criminals and instead cast people who have been assaulted, robbed, threatened, burglarized, stolen from, raped, molested, and murdered, as the villains of the peace.
Mr. Gascón is not the answer to rampant crime that overwhelms the community. He is the problem. He should be recalled.
Sabotaging the System
(The writer is an accomplished prosecutor.)
s a deputy district attorney with over two decades serving this office, I find Gascón’s actions to be intentional sabotage of the criminal justice system.
A blanket directive to refuse to charge prior strikes treats the repeat violent offender the same as a first time offender.
Without the gun enhancement, the armed robber who puts a gun in a victim’s mouth will face no greater maximum punishment than an unarmed robber who merely pushes a victim or verbally threatens a victim to hand over the loot. There will be no disincentive for using weapons during crimes and more victims will be hurt and killed.
Gascón’s policies encourage gang members to use children (under 18) to commit murders knowing that they’ll be out of custody by the age of 25. (Maximum incarceration is age 25 for juveniles who are not tried as adults.)
His amended directive allowing for certain enhancements to be filed only with Admin approval is nothing more than a sleight of hand to con the public.
The Legislature decided that great bodily injury should be punished with three additional years of prison, with five years for brain injury and coma. But now, prosecutors have to convince the administration on EACH CASE, why the great bodily injury (“GBI”) allegation must be filed. We file tens of thousands of cases each year in LA County. Gascón knows it is infeasible for DDAs to get permission in advance to file enhancements on each case.
(Enhancements such as GBI, gun, multiple victims, gang, etc., can be either filed in the initial complaint at the inception of the case, or if the facts come to light after the case is filed, the facts can be proved up during the preliminary hearing and added to the information. (Prior strikes can be added to the complaint or information prior to trial, when discovered later, and do not need to be proved at preliminary hearing. Strikes and five-year priors are proved at trial, usually in a bifurcated hearing after the defendant has been found guilty.)
I’m mentioning this to illustrate the different ways in which enhancements and allegations arise in the timeline of a felony case. Seeking approval to file enhancements from upper management for each case is impractical and Gascón knows it.
Copyright 2021, Metropolitan News Company