Just how far is the Los Angeles Times willing to go to shield George Gascón, whose election as Los Angeles County district attorney it endorsed, from public ire based upon his misuse of office?
On Monday, a judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court, acting on an application for a preliminary injunction by the Association of Deputy District Attorneys, a hybrid union/professional association, ruled that some of District Attorney George Gascón’s “special directives” are “unlawful.”
Unlawful—a word used repeatedly in the course of Judge James Chalfant’s 46-page opinion.
That a district attorney would defy the law is stunning. A judicial determination to that effect is, by any objective journalistic standard, newsworthy.
This is especially so because the development is bound to add impetus to the recall movement. Subscribers to the “Recall George Gascón” Facebook page now number in excess of 39,000 persons.
So how did the Times handle the reporting of the ruling? Shamefully. Dishonestly.
n Page One of the first section is a story bearing the headline, “Gascón reforms stir a showdown.” Its upbeat lead sentence tells not of Gascón’s humiliating setback in court but says:
“Criminal justice reformers nationwide rejoiced when L.A. County voters chose George Gascón to lead the nation’s largest prosecutor’s office, celebrating a big win in a years-long campaign to replace traditional law-and-order district attorneys with ones intent on change.”
“And just hours after being sworn in, Gascón delivered to his backers: He announced a slew of policy directives that barred prosecutors from seeking the death penalty, trying juveniles as adults, attending parole hearings or filing most sentencing enhancements that can increase a defendants’ prison term.
“Nearly as quickly, the news instigated a brawl among California’s public prosecutors, with the organization representing 57 out of the state’s 58 district attorneys questioning both the legality and wisdom of Gascón’s mandates. Now, many of the state’s old guard of district attorneys are openly sparring with reformer colleagues in a power struggle that could shape criminal justice in California and other states.”
A meandering discourse ensues, recounting developments in the controversies over Gascón’s policies.
t is not until the seventh paragraph of the story, on the “jump” on Page 7, that there is any mention of the ruling. The article says:
“The union representing L.A. County line prosecutors—those who handle cases day to day—sued Gascón last year hoping to stall some of his changes. Monday a judge ruled largely in their favor. The decision will almost certainly be appealed and could ultimately reach the state Supreme Court.”
The ADDA did not bring an action to “stall” changes—which presupposes that Gascón will ultimately get a green light from the courts to carry out his policies—but to permanently prevent certain special directives from being enforced. The objective is to stop not stall changes.
The challenged directives include ordering that no strikes be alleged, for purpose of the three-strikes law, in contravention of two statutes requiring that prosecutors “plead and prove” all strikes. This is subject to a judge having the power under Penal Code §1385 to vacate a strike allegation either in “furtherance of justice” or because the strike can’t be proven. Gascón has also ordered deputies to move for an order vacating all strikes alleged while Jackie Lacey was district attorney, whether either of the statutory requisites exists or not.
Notwithstanding that a judge ruled policies of the D.A. to be “unlawful,” it is noteworthy that the word “unlawful” does not appear in the Times’s account. Well, not in that account; there is a second story.
On Page One, there appears this inset within the text:
“L.A. Judge blocks
“Ruling says some new policies on sentencing enhancements violate state law. CALIFORNIA, B1.”
So the real news—Chalfant’s ruling—is relegated to coverage in the second section. A reader is less apt to read that second story about Gascón after wading through the first.
he headline on “B1”advises that the judge is blocking “reforms.” We have previously expressed the view that word “reforms” as applied to Gascón’s directives is not an objective description because a reform, by definition, is not merely a change, but an advancement. In this particular instance, to say that Chalfant blocked “reforms” necessarily ascribes error to his decision.
“The District Attorney’s disregard of the Three Strikes ‘plead and prove’ requirement is unlawful, as is requiring deputy district attorneys to seek dismissal of pending sentencing enhancements without a lawful basis. An injunction against a public officials unlawful actions cannot, by definition, interfere with the lawful exercise of the official’s duties.”
If those requirements by Gascón are, as Chalfant found, unlawful, it stands to reason they are not “reforms.” It is beyond debate that unlawful conduct by a public official is not a “reform”; it’s an affront.
By necessary implication, for the Times to say that Chalfant blocked “reforms,” it is saying that the policies he invalidated are actually lawful.
Chalfant’s view is predicated on the unambiguous wording of statutes and the decisions of courts of appeal. The Times’s view, reflected in a recent editorial and in its outrageously slanted news coverage yesterday is seemingly founded on an allegiance to a candidate it endorsed, with fidelity to him taking precedence over its duty to readers—one it ought to regard as paramount—not to misinform them.
The article mentions two district attorneys in the state who have sided with Gascón, but does not allude to the several who have publicly denounced his approach, including the district attorney of Fresno who on Monday issued a statement hailing Chalfant’s ruling and assailing Gascón.
As the recall proceeds, with the collection of signatures slated to commence next month, it stands as a certainty that the Times will be backing Gascón.
We wonder to what extent it is prepared to debase itself further, in supporting his retention in office, through misstatements and distortions.
Copyright 2021, Metropolitan News Company