Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Wednesday, November 3, 2021


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Beckloff to Hear ‘Hot Potato’ Dispute Over DA’s Practices

ADDA Accused Gascón of ‘Boss Tweed’-Like Maneuvers; District Attorney Proclaims Hiring Actions Are Lawful


By a MetNews Staff Writer


Coming before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff next week is the issue of whether District Attorney George Gascón acted unlawfully in bringing on board three deputy public defenders who supported his campaign effort, with the petitioner, the Association of Deputy District Attorneys, insisting that the jobs were not validly awarded given that the lawyers had not passed a Civil Service examination.

 No such exam was required, Gascón maintains, because county rules expressly provide for interdepartmental transfers.

In papers Beckloff will be reviewing in preparation for the Nov. 10 hearing on a motion for a preliminary injunction, the ADDA accuses Gascón of “Boss Tweed”-style tactics—alluding to the 19th Century head of New York’s Tammany Hall, the Democratic Party political machine—and Gascón asserting that the court system is being used improperly for political purposes.

Steve Cooley, who served as district attorney from 2000-2012, has joined forces with the ADDA, with which he was at loggerheads in past years when its leader was of a radical nature.

The career criminal defense lawyers Gascón hired are Tiffiny Blacknell and Shelan Joseph, brought in as Grade IV deputy district attorneys, and Alisa Blair, who has a post as a Grade III deputy. All were supporters of Gascón when he ran against then-District Attorney Jackie Lacey last year.

Although the case was assigned, by random draw, to Beckloff, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mary S. Strobel on Oct. 15 heard the ADDA’s request for a temporary restraining order because Beckloff’s courtroom was dark that day. She denied relief, pointing to deficiencies the ADDA would have to cure.

ADDA’s Position

In a beefed up memorandum of points and authorities filed Oct. 19, the ADDA’s lawyer, Elizabeth J. Gibbons said:

“[T]he County Charter and Civil Service Rules create a merit based employment system within the County which is designed to prevent any elected official or department head from filling the ranks of his or her office with political appointments of unqualified employees who have not demonstrated the ability to perform the job to which they are appointed. The Boss Tweed hiring practices which District Attorney Gascon claims he is entitled to pursue were outlawed in the 1880’s and buried in Los Angeles County with the 1912 ratification of the County Charter by voters.”

She said a preliminary injunction would “do no more than maintain this merit based employment system, and the Civil Service Commission’s ability to protect that system from the political patronage practices of Respondent Gascon.”

Gascón’s Opposition

Gascón’s opposition was filed Friday. Justin H. Sanders, Sabrina C. Narain, Shawn P. Thomas, and Matthew D. Barzman of Sanders Roberts LLP wrote:

“The change of classifications at issue was proper because Ms. Blacknell. Ms. Joseph, and Ms. Blair maintained the same grade and rank as Deputy District Attorneys as they did in their prior positions as Deputy Public Defenders. Significantly. Petitioner does not dispute that all three attorneys maintained the same grade as required by Civil Service Rule 15.03….

“Under the Civil Service Rules, some positions ordinarily require that job applicants take a competitive civil service examination before qualifying for employment with the County….Notably, the competitive examination is not required for an interdepartmental transfer if the County employee is transferred to a similar position of the same class.”

They added:

“The transferees from the Public Defender’s Office were experienced lawyers who demonstrated the skills necessary to carry out their roles as Deputy District Attorneys. Last, the court system is not the proper venue for political activism, and the public policy rule against enjoining public officials from carrying out their duties….”

Declarations Attached

A declaration from Sheila Williams, senior manager for Los Angeles County’s Chief Executive Office (“CEO”), says that “the County often utilizes a ‘loan/borrow’ arrangement between departments…for budgetary reasons” and that such transfers “are not unusual and happen frequently.”

Stanley Yen, personnel officer of the District Attorney’s Office, provided a declaration relating that the county Department of Human Resources (“DHR”) in late December 2020 determined that a Grade III deputy public defender and a Grade III deputy district attorney hold essential equal ranks, approving the transfer of Blair, and come to the same conclusion with respect to Grade IV deputies, giving the green light to shifting Blacknell and Joseph.

Rodney Collins, assistant director of the DHR, said in a declaration that it was he who determined that the requested transfer “would be a reclassification to a position of the same rank and grade.”

Cooley Provides Declaration

Cooley provided a contrary declaration. He said:

“The classified positions of Deputy District Attorney and Deputy Public Defender, at any grade, have never been considered the same class or rank. The examination process for the promotion of Deputy District Attorneys to Grades III. IV, and V involves testing for significantly and substantially different skills than those tested for the promotion of Public Defenders.”

The former district attorney added:

“The job classifications of Deputy District Attorney and Deputy Public Defender have not, to my knowledge, undergone job reclassification studies by the CEO’s office since the election of District Attorney Gascon. In my experience as the District Attorney of Los Angeles County, job reclassification studies conducted by the CEO’s office regularly take nine to twelve months to complete. George Gascon has not been the District Attorney of Los Angeles County long enough for a job reclassification study to be completed and such a completed reclass study would be required to change the job experience requirement necessary to hold the position of DDA III, IV, or V.”

Also proving a declaration in support of the ADDA’s position was Scott Dominguez, a member of its Board of Directors. He said that when he was a Grade III deputy county counsel in 2008, he was told that if he wanted to move to the District Attorney’s Office, he would have to start at Grade I, and did. 

Pending before the Court of Appeal for this district is an appeal by Gascón of a writ of mandate obtained by the ADDA bringing a halt to implementation of some of his special directives issued Dec. 7, the day he took office.


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