By a MetNews Staff Writer
Former Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, along with 10 other victims’ rights attorneys and a former Los Angeles Police Department detective have called upon state Attorney General Rob Bonta to exercise his state constitutional authority over the county’s current top prosecutor, George Gascón.
The call for a crackdown on Gascón came in an open letter dated Sunday and publicly released yesterday. It tells the attorney general:
“The residents of Los Angeles County need and deserve a prosecutor who follows and enforces the laws, protects public safety and safeguards victims’ rights. Gascon has abandoned his duties in a wholesale way. As Attorney General and the chief law officer of California, you are obligated to intercede to ensure that the residents of Los Angeles County are equally protected and that the laws are uniformly enforced.”
The letter points to Art. V, §13 of the state Constitution which says, in part:
“The Attorney General shall have direct supervision over every district attorney…in all matters pertaining to the duties of their respective offices, and may require any of said officers to make reports concerning the investigation, detection, prosecution, and punishment of crime in their respective jurisdictions as to the Attorney General may seem advisable.”
The letter also makes note of Government Code §12550 which includes these words:
“The Attorney General has direct supervision over the district attorneys of the several counties of the State and may require of them written reports as to the condition of public business entrusted to their charge.
“When he deems it advisable or necessary in the public interest…, he shall assist any district attorney in the discharge of his duties, and may, where he deems it necessary, take full charge of any investigation or prosecution of violations of law of which the superior court has jurisdiction. In this respect he has all the powers of a district attorney, including the power to issue or cause to be issued subpenas or other process.”
Thus, the attorney general could take such actions as certifying a juvenile for trial in the criminal court in defiance of Gascón’s policy against doing so. However, the prospect of Bonta thwarting Gascón’s policies appears remote inasmuch as he’s a Democrat and Gascón, running for the non-partisan post of district attorney as a Democrat, with the endorsement of the Democratic Party and national Democratic office-holders.
However, Cooley—the Republican nominee for attorney general in 2010 who narrowly lost to now-Vice President Kamala Harris, a Democrat—told the METNEWS yesterday:
“Attorney General Bonta’s response to the open letter will demonstrate whether he is a real chief law enforcement officer or just another partisan politician in that important office. That office has been horribly politically weaponized the last decade or so and that in turn has diminished that once great office.”
Abrogation of Duties
The letter sets forth:
“Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon has abrogated his prosecutorial responsibilities,1 abandoned victims of crime, and endangered the residents of Los Angeles County. To accomplish this abrogation, abandonment and endangerment, he has created blanket policies that prevent his over 900 deputies from exercising any discretion. Instead, he has implemented a ‘one size fits all’ policy for violent crimes. This is the ultimate form of abuse of discretion.”
It goes on to say:
“On December 7, 2020, newly elected District Attorney George Gascon was sworn in. Within two minutes, he simultaneously announced and instituted numerous Special Directives.5 In various respects, those directives violate the law, substantially reduce public safety, and recklessly violate victims’ constitutional Marsy’s Law rights.6 By refusing to advocate on behalf of victims, the Los Angeles County District Attorney is assisting the defendant. Government Code section 26540 prohibits this.”
That section says, in its entirety:
“A district attorney shall not during his incumbency defend or assist in the defense of, or act as counsel for, any person accused of any crime in any county.”
The letter provides these examples of policies which, it asserts, “violate the law, endanger public safety and violate victims’ rights”:
•Withdrawing, in his first 100 days in office, 77 motions made under his predecessor, Jackie Lacey, for the transfer of juvenile delinquency cases to adult court—including “several” cases in which the Court of Appeal, in its remittitur to the Superior Court, directed that a transfer hearing be conducted. The letter charges:
“In these cases, Gascon has ignored the advice and counsel of his own Writs and Appeals Division and ordered his deputies to join the defense in requesting the courts violate the law by not following the clear unambiguous language of the remittitur orders.”
A footnote quotes the Third District Court of Appeal’s 2006 opinion in People v. Dutra as saying: “A trial court may not disobey a remittitur, as that would amount to overruling the appellate court’s decision thereby violating a basic legal principle: ‘Courts exercising inferior jurisdiction must accept the law declared by courts of superior jurisdiction.’ ” (quoting the California Supreme Court’s 1962 opinion in Auto Equity Sales, Inc. v. Superior Court.)
•Forbidding deputies to attend parole hearings. The letter protests:
“The prosecutor is the sole representative of the interests of the people who can advocate for public safety.8 The absence of prosecutors at parole hearings puts the public at risk. Inmates have attorney representation at their parole hearings. Gascon’s policy denies representation of the People of the State of California. Importantly, victims (usually next of kin of murdered victims or rape victims) are left to fend for themselves.”
The missive alludes to an instance where Gov. Gavin Newsom overturned the Parole Board’s grant of a release to a man who, as a 17-year-old, committed a murder. The mother was not represented at the hearing by a deputy from Gascón’s office.
Deputy District Attorney John E. McKinney, the prosecutor in the case who was barred from the hearing by virtue of Gascón’s directive, was quoted on May 25 by Fox News as saying:
“People familiar with this case will remember that Marquis was beaten, stomped, dragged around in the streets, stabbed through the heart, shot in the head and left for dead in the street, unclad in an act of humiliation.”
•Barring opposition to resentencing petitions, such as those filed by a person convicted of a felony who seeks, under Proposition 47, the reduction of the offense to a misdemeanor, or by an inmate sentenced to life imprisonment, under the Three Strikes Law, for a felony that was not serious or violent, who seeks relief under Proposition 36. The letter contends:
“Gascon’s blanket policy reflects neither the will of the People nor the clear intent of Propositions 36 and 47.”
•Precluding the prosecution of certain misdemeanors. Bonta is advised that of the 88 cities in Los Angeles County, only 10 have their own prosecutor, and that the other 78, as well as unincorporated areas of the county. Must rely on the District Attorney’s Office for prosecution of misdemeanors.
The letter comments:
“Gascon has ordered that a number of important and common ‘quality of life’ and ‘keeping the peace’ misdemeanors shall not be filed. These include trespass, disturbing the peace, driving without a license, driving on a suspended license, criminal threats, being under the influence of drugs and loitering for prostitution. Needless to say, this abandonment of his prosecutorial duties in this regard negatively affects a community’s quality of life and law enforcement’s ability to keep the peace. This is just one reason why 27 cities in Los Angeles County have voted No Confidence in Gascon as District Attorney.”
•Requiring that “factual innocence” of persons released on habeas corpus be conceded, except under specified circumstances. The directive instructs:
“[A]bsent extenuating circumstances and supervisor approval, it shall be the policy of this office to move jointly for and/or concede in the superior court that “a finding of factual innocence” should be made, where the conviction has been overturned, the charges have been dismissed, the LACDA does not intend to appeal the court’s ruling overturning the conviction, and there no longer exists constitutionally permissible evidence sufficient to prove that person’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The letter objects:
“This policy applies even in those instances when a petition is granted on grounds other than actual innocence, e.g., procedural due process errors or in very old cases where witnesses and evidence cannot be located. Such a concession also permits an individual to present an indemnity claim to the California Victim Compensation Board pursuant to Penal Code section 4900, et seq. notwithstanding that the ‘finding’ of factual innocence is a mere contrivance.”
•Ignoring the state constitutional right to safety. In particular, Cooley and the others cite the rights, under Art. I, §28, for victims “[t]o be reasonably protected from the defendant and persons acting on behalf of the defendant,” “[t]o have the safety of the victim and the victim’s family considered in fixing the amount of bail and release conditions for the defendant,” and to have “[p]ublic safety and the safety of the victim” observed as “the primary considerations” in the setting of bail.
Gascon’s “Pretrial Release Policy” declares that “[t]he presumption shall be to release individuals pretrial” and includes the edict that deputies “shall not request cash bail for any misdemeanor, non-serious felony, or non-violent felony offense” That policy, the letter says, combined Gascón’s “orders to not allege sentencing enhancements and special allegations…”has the practical effect of making it virtually impossible for a judge to impose a reasonable bail according to the Superior Court’s bail schedule and the law.”
The memo alleges that conflicts of interest emerge from Gascón’s hiring of criminal defense lawyers. It provides these examples:
ALISA BLAIR, Special Advisor for Juvenile Diversion and Collaborative Courts, has taken credit for writing the “Youth Justice Policy” which Gascon issued as a directive when Blair was still employed as a deputy public defender. Blair claims to be the only person who can make exceptions to the policy. In at least one of the post-Proposition 57 cases, including those cases where defendants have been or are currently represented by the Public Defender’s Office, Ms. Blair had email and phone contact with the defendant’s mother and was clearly assisting in the defendant’s defense. It is a violation of the law for her to do so. [A footnote cites Government Code §26540.]
SHELAN JOSEPH (who joined the office on April 1, 2021, as a Special Assistant) has taken over all LADA Capital Habeas cases, including those cases where defendants have been or are currently represented by the Public Defender’s Office. Soon after December 7, 2020, the Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney’s Association (ADDA) filed a lawsuit challenging the implementation of Gascon’s policies. In support of Gascon’s opposition to the ADDA lawsuit, Joseph submitted a declaration supporting Gascon and his policies. Ms. Joseph’s declaration, which is dated January 14, 2021, just three months before her employment as a deputy district attorney, made it crystal clear what her prior duties had been with the Public Defender’s Office. She declared, under penalty of perjury, “For the last two years I have been assigned as the Assistant Special Circumstance coordinator. In that capacity, I oversaw all cases where the death penalty may be imposed. As such, all cases had special circumstances filed.” (Italics added). These are the identical cases for which Ms. Joseph is now responsible, but as a prosecutor. One need only take Ms. Joseph at her word to see the blatant conflict of interest by her serving as the supervising deputy district attorney responsible for LADA capital habeas cases.
DIANA TERAN has been appointed by Gascon as Special Advisor for Post-Conviction Litigation and Justice System Integrity. The District Attorney’s Office and the Public Defender’s Office have both confirmed she is “on loan” to the District Attorney’s Office from the Public Defender’s Office. Incredibly, she submitted “The People’s Answer to Petition for Review” to the Supreme Court of California thereby joining with the defendant’s Petition for Review in the case of Nazier v Superior Court, California Supreme Court Case S267713. Teran is actively involved in at least one, if not more, habeas cases and she is actively developing and executing policies regarding resentencing of the very clients that she previously represented as a defense attorney.
TIFFINY BLACKNELL, was a deputy public defender for 18 years until March 1, 2021. On that date she joined the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office and was designated Community and Government Affairs Liaison. She has boldly and publicly professed her beliefs that police are evil, she hates law enforcement, and all prisons should be abolished. She has proudly worn a shirt bearing the words “The police are trained to kill us” on social media posts and other settings.
LAURENCE MIDDLETON was appointed by Gascon as a “special prosecutor” to review and prosecute law enforcement use of force cases. These cases had already been evaluated and decided upon by a prior administration. Gascon made this appointment when Middleton was representing defendants in criminal cases. This appointment by Gascon was done with a knowing disregard for Government Code 26540, which prohibits any district attorney from defending or acting as counsel for any person accused of any crime. Two judges have already determined that Middleton had a conflict of interest in continuing to represent criminal defendants.
The letter bears the following signatures:
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