A Look Back, and Looking Forward
By George Gascon
Los Angeles County’s new district attorney, George Gascón, faced with widespread resistance within his department to policies he has promulgated aimed at minimizing prison sentences and requiring actions toward that end which many deputies proclaim to be unethical, if not unlawful, sent a New Year’s Eve message to the deputies seeking unity. Addressed to “Dear colleagues,” the message came in the aftermath of a suit by the Association of Deputy District Attorneys (“ADDA”) to block implementation of certain features of his “special directives,” with a Superior Court judge having set a Feb. 2 hearing date on the ADDA’s bid for a preliminary injunction. Although Gascón promised deputies in his email that he would work “hard to improve your working conditions,” that did not deter one deputy from posting an excoriating response to Gascón on Google which spread widely, and drew broad support. The respective messages are reproduced below, altered only by visual aspects (such as use of drop caps and increased paragraphing) to enhance readability.
(The writer on Dec. 7 became district attorney of Los Angeles County. The following message was sent on New Year’s Eve to deputies in his office.)
I want to take this opportunity to thank you for your hard work and wish you and your families a safe and healthy 2021.
2020 has been a difficult year for us all. The pandemic kept us apart, disrupted family life, and caused many to suffer the pains of the disease. While each of us has been touched by the pandemic, we have seen how it has had the most profound impact on the elderly and people of color. We have seen how it has adversely impacted all members of the justice system and the community of victims and defendants that we serve. The murder of George Floyd drove a wedge between law enforcement and many communities. We face a reckoning with systemic racism in the criminal legal system that has uprooted the foundation of this institution. This dynamic has impacted us all, with the essential work you do to safeguard Los Angeles being increasingly devalued in the eyes of many across the political spectrum, and often for very different reasons.
I want to thank you for the many emails and messages of support. I also want to thank those of you that have reached out to express concerns regarding new policies and to offer input. I appreciate both! I realize that some of the policies I’ve instituted are unsettling for some of you and they may raise questions about much of the work we have done (myself included) in the name of public safety for decades.
believe that our work as prosecutors has increasingly become too narrowly focused on punishment. Our work in the coming years will focus on holding the accused accountable, encouraging rehabilitation, and never forgetting the people affected by crime.
I look forward to working with each of you to fulfill this vision and invite those of you who view the role of a prosecutor differently to challenge me with facts and creative ideas. Through communication and a commitment to making a criminal justice system that is just and fair, we will reduce recidivism and develop healthy neighborhoods.
I know how hard you work. And I know that you put in countless hours every year and that you are committed to public safety and that is fueled your passion for this work. I share your passion, and it’s for this reason that I ask you to join me in re-imagining our role in achieving a more fair and just criminal justice system that is driven by the best in all of us.
urge you to question my direction when you disagree, but I ask that you be willing to be introspective, as well. We all need to be open and curious as we embark on something new and promising together. I am not saying that it will always be easy, but it’s healthy, and it’s a process that brings about the best of all of us.
As we embark into 2021, I want you to know that I’m deeply committed to working hard to improve your working conditions. I will be collaborating with you and your employee representatives to explore 21st century improvements to our work environment. I intend to create opportunities to redesign the definitions of the workplace, and that we will be including greater capacity for remote work beyond the pandemic. In January, we will also engage in the first phase of a reorganization of our Office with a primary focus on improving our service delivery capacity both internally and externally.
Again, I want to thank you for your deep commitment to public service. I look forward to working with you in 2021 for the betterment of our community. To work with you is an honor.
A Reply to District Attorney Gascón
(The writer of the following is an unidentified deputy district attorney.)
District Attorney Gascon, today you issued a New Year’s Eve Message to the members of this office.
You remind us that, in your eyes, there are “. . . questions about much of the work ‘we’ have done in the name of public safety . . .” You say, “To work with you is an honor.” You invite us to challenge you with facts and creative ideas. You urge us to question your direction when we disagree. You ask that we join you in “re-imagining” the role of the District Attorney’s Office. Your words and your invitations land hollow, and, quite frankly, insult us.
You were elected on November 3, 2020, yet you made no effort to reach out to the prosecutors in this Office to allay legitimate fears that they had as to the drastic change they imagined could be coming and to help them open to a change in leadership. On the date, and literally time, of your swearing in, you issued 61 pages of unintelligible sweeping policy directives within minutes after the noon hour with no forewarning and before we even were introduced to you, while you gave a political speech, a speech that paid little, perhaps no, lip service to victims and those harmed by crime. We watched you with our arms crossed across our chests.
You are the elected District Attorney for a 2,000 person Office of the District Attorney, the largest in the nation, with an unsurpassed number of subject matter experts in all aspects of the criminal justice system. You had access to experts in gang crime, sex crime, major narcotic crime, cyber crime, asset forfeiture, juvenile, mental health, victims of crime, Brady compliance, ethics, conviction review, re-sentencing of violent offenders, and Habeas practice, among many other disciplines, and the most experienced cadre of crime charging professionals imaginable. And yet, you did not consult any of them in developing sweeping policies that literally gut the criminal justice system in Los Angeles County. Instead, you enlisted criminal defense attorneys, even those with pending cases whose criminal clients will directly benefit from directives they wrote for you.
he disrespect and disregard you demonstrated for some of the most accomplished criminal practitioners existing is unfathomable in light of what you claim that you seek to accomplish. How, sir, can you think we could view your “welcome” to us as anything but a sham. We read your directives with shock, we were so disturbed and confused in our first reading we had physical reactions ranging from raised heartbeats to nausea and extreme emotional distress. No one could take in what had come upon us in one read, one hour, indeed, one day.
The policies you propose are outlandish, radical, legally and ethically dubious at best. They evidence that you and the defense attorneys that you engaged to write them for you have no practical experience in the vast complexities of prosecutorial work. Your written policies are an embarrassment, indeed, a joke. You gave the prosecutors of this office no forewarning as to what was to come. It was designed to shock, it did. When we feared your coming, we did not even begin to imagine the nightmare you would bring to this institution that we hold so dear. No, sir, we do not cling to notions of “punishment,” as you accuse us of doing. In my long career, I cannot remember a time when I sought to “punish.” Instead, the prosecutors of this office strive, daily, for justice. Justice is a concept individual to each specific set of circumstances surrounding an offender, the crime he commits and the harm he causes. It encompasses a consideration for the voice of our victims, a desire to ensure others are not harmed in future, restitution, and a fair outcome for the accused that is commensurate with the crime. It is a complex array of considerations that we put to each individual case, that we teach our new DDAs and that we proudly, and sometimes at great personal cost, consider professionally, personally and often take home with us in our personal time so that we may land on the right and just course.
You do not understand this. You demand fidelity to policies that have no regard for the individual circumstances of each case or each offender. This, sir, is not justice. That you require us to adopt your definition of justice makes us sick, we turn away from you.
You seek to reduce us to your concept of what we are— you believe we are robotic, un-enlightened, backwards functionaries who want to lock every offender up and throw away the key. You have no idea who we are. You come here and dispense your polices to correct us without seeking to know what is in our hearts or what is in our practice. Your mission is fool hearty, because you seek to change a fiction. We reject your definition of us.
lso on your first day you called a meeting with all of your managers. You told 135 of the most experienced leaders within this Office that they had been “making mistakes” as prosecutors all these years. Ironically, in this same meeting your ignorance of the law and the implications of your policies was on stark display. One by one, leaders showing courage respectfully asked you questions, demonstrating their intricate knowledge and expertise within their disciplines, gently suggesting to you one by one the dire consequences your policies will wrought in practical implications that no rational leader would ignore, even in the face of a desire for extreme institutional change. You dismissed each one. You showed us you do not care about the consequences of your polices. You showed us you do not care to learn and understand about the work that we do for justice, for victims, for safety. We learned in this one day that there can be no “re-imagining” with you, sir. You seek to implement one man’s view. The arrogance you demonstrate in disregarding the incredible wealth of legal minds available to you suggests that you are pathological and cannot be trusted. You are unhinged from reality. In this meeting you cemented our hate for you. Prosecutors all over this county were angry and emotional responding to your “leadership,” and this continues.
Managers from all over this office have been communicating to you and the single person designated by you as a decision maker, this person with a mere 5 years prosecution experience, requesting communication on your policies. Managers have tried for weeks to bring the consequences that your unintelligible policies are having on individual cases, indeed, individual lives, to your attention. Managers receive no answers. You speak as if you care for input and ask to be challenged but you provide no answers and you instill terror in those that work for you by allowing those with adverse interests to the cases we are responsible for to fill out forms to turn us in if they don’t get what they want.
We are subjected, countywide, to those same people reminding us that if we do not follow your new policies, they will report us to you. They demean us daily, and you aid and abet it. You do not have our backs, you will never have our loyalty. You have the backs of the defense bar and criminals that hurt and harm. You have created this environment for those that work in this office, without forewarning, without care and without owning what you have done. You direct, facilitate, and allow defense attorneys to negotiate offers on extremely consequential cases behind the backs of incredibly hard working prosecutors with no input by them or forewarning to them, leaving them undermined and embarrassed before the court, victim families, the public and the defense bar. Each time you do this word of it goes viral to every prosecutor within this office within minutes.
ur disdain for you deepens. You publicly issued a statement to the media calling one of your most ethical, hard working 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. Isn’t this what any leader would want of his prosecutors? You issued a demeaning statement to the media asserting that this incredibly courageous prosecutor, who is now beloved to those that know and didn’t know him, has now learned what happens when he ignores a directive of his boss. Do you believe your behavior encourages any one of us to embrace you and your ideas? We hate you for this. It increases our solidarity against you.
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.
DDAs in this office believe you are reading their emails. The distrust for you as their leader is rampant and irreparable. You will never be able to effectively lead this office. 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.
You wanted to lead this Office in a new and different direction. You could have. DDAs are reasonable people, and in my experience, most lean liberal on social issues. Great numbers of us were moved by the call for social justice change and understand that change within the justice system is a part of that. DDAs were open to new and different ideas. Instead of seeking input and trying to work with the knowledgeable DDAs in this office that could have constructively assisted you in crafting and moving your agenda forward you ignored them, and deemed them irrelevant. Instead of setting up a knowledgeable, experienced and respected administrative team, you brought in two individuals that people do not trust and do not respect and do not have the experience to competently handle the tasks their position requires of them.
ou brought in political actors, just like yourself. You do not even utilize the knowledge and expertise of the bureau directors that remain. Instead you instill fear and dysfunction because they are afraid to bring legitimate issues to your attention. This sows dysfunction down the chain of command into all the offices across this county and into the courtrooms. A recent family member of a deceased victim commented in open court to the DDA, “you guys are clowns.” You are nearly a month into your term and you do not have a functioning executive team. You sir, are an ineffective leader and seek to destroy this office. 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.
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. You were not unwelcome by people within this office when you were elected. You have acknowledged that you received many offers of assistance. Yet, you avail yourself of none. At this point, no person from within with a good conscience would say “yes” to an invitation to serve in your administration. If they are invited, I hope they refuse. Your actions offend the conscience.
If you wanted to lead this Office in a new direction, you would have met first with the prosecutors in this office. You would have explained your agenda and the reasons why it is important to justice. You would have acted inclusively. No policy should be promulgated with one sided interests. Policy affects many aspects of the system, intersection with other laws, court interests, defense interests, community interests, victim interests, law enforcement interests, budgetary interests. It affects lives. Those with one interest, defense attorneys and those attached to like minded think tanks, who wrote your policies, have one set of interests. You ignored all others. You would have round tabled each policy and sent it to multiple disciplines for review. You would have sought expert legal advice from the Appellate Division who would have vetted your policies for legality. You would have consulted your new and still non-existent executive team as to the wisdom of intended and unintended consequences of your proposals. You would have consulted the outside interests you hold so dear. This is how competent leadership and policy are implemented. You have not done this. You show your inexperience and stupidity, not only by the lack of process but by the very words, unintelligible crafting, illegality, and utter lack of expertise that is reflected in the tenets you propound in each directive that none of us can figure out how to implement and you cannot seem to unwind in the face of practical implications.
n my many years as a prosecutor in this office, I have never seen such solidarity and purpose displayed by the deputy district attorneys in this office. We are not behind you. Your radical agenda will fail because you do not know how to lead.
You have shown nothing but an epic failure in leadership. You have created such harm within that it is irreparable to your position and to your mission. No District Attorney can succeed when the 1000 DDAs he “leads” feel devalued and disregarded, disrespect him, his ideas and his methods. You could have come in and sought collaboration, mutual respect and engaged in communication. Instead you instill fear, display distrust and insult the DDAs of this office and the victims of crime that we passionately seek to protect. Your message today rings hollow and insults. You will be left to “reimagine” on your own, and, sir, with this mere three week “look back,” I cannot wish you good luck “looking forward.”
Happy New Year Mr. Gascon.
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