Two Deputy D.A.s Sue Over Alleged Whistleblower Retaliation
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Two prosecutors are suing Los Angeles County for whistleblower retaliation, claiming they are being penalized for refusing to adhere to unlawful policies instituted by District Attorney George Gascón.
The plaintiffs, in separate actions filed Wednesday, are Head Deputy Shawn Randolph and Assistant Head Deputy Lesley Klein Sonnenberg. Each is represented by Beverly Hills attorney Gregory W. Smith and others in his office.
At the time Gascón took office on Dec. 7, Randolph was head deputy in charge of the office’s Juvenile Division, supervising about 50 attorneys and 50 laypersons. On his first day in the job, he issued a spate of special directives, one of which, 20-09, concerned the prosecution of juvenile offenders.
Randolph balked at following the directive and in retaliation, she alleges, she was transferred to the Parole Division, which her complaint describes as “a dead-end position for a Head Deputy.”
Among the provisions is this:
“Filing deputies are instructed to NOT file any potential strike offense if the offender is 16 or 17 years of age at the time of the offense. The only exception to this policy shall be charges involving forcible rape and murder.”
“For example, all robberies will be filed, at most, as a grand theft person and/or assault by means likely to cause great bodily injury.”
Randolph’s complaint sets forth that “if a 16 or 17-year-old juvenile robbed a victim by putting a gun to the victim’s head,” robbery would be “a correct charge for the crime” but “Gascon’s policy, effectively required prosecutors to unlawfully hide the truth from the courts by mischaracterizing” the offense in that and other instances involving violent crimes.
The directive also says that “[f]ilings will consist of the lowest potential code section that corresponds to the alleged conduct and mandate one count per incident” and “Enhancements shall not be filed on youth petitions consistent with the office wide directives on ending enhancement filings.” Adhering top those policies, Randolph’s complaint alleges, “would constitute fraud on the court and, among other things, violate Plaintiff’s ethical and prosecutorial obligations under the law.”
The complaint says (with paragraph numbers omitted):
“Because of Gascon’s Directive. Plaintiff repeatedly disclosed to her superiors that criminal charges made under Gascon’s unlawful policy against violent juvenile offenders were not ‘truthful charges’ and that filing such charges before a California court violates the ethical and statutory duties of a prosecutor.
“Plaintiff emailed her Bureau Director statins that she believed Gascon’s Directives were a violation of State Bar Rule 3.8. and that she believed many charges that were filed against violent juvenile offenders were not “truthful charges” and that she was violating her ethical and statutory duties as a prosecutor.
“Additionally. Plaintiff complained that under Gascon’s Directive, violent juvenile murderers could not be tried as adults, and that Gascon violated Marsy’s Law by refusing to permit the victims’ family input into the decision not to try them as adults.”
“Currently, she is the only Head Deputy without an Assistant Head Deputy, the position carries far less responsibility, she is in a non-descript office, the office refused to pay for [California District Attorneys Association and National District Attorneys Association] dues, her tasks are minimal, and she is in a position that will impact her ability to promote or advance in the future. Plaintiff will never be put into a position that requires her to work with the courts adjudicating criminal matters because of her opposition to Gascón’s unlawful policies. Finally. Plaintiff was denied transfer to two Branch Divisions that opened in Torrance and Long Beach in April of 2021. although she was the most qualified candidate for the positions.”
Sonnenberg had been the assistant head deputy in the Family Violence Division. His objection was to Special Directive 20-08 which, as issued on Dec. 7, declared:
“[S]entence enhancements or other sentencing allegations, including under the Three Strikes law, shall not be filed in any cases and shall be withdrawn in pending matters.”
A follow-up directive issued Dec. 15 comments: “The language is clear that this policy is intended to put an end to the practice of alleging strike priors and all other special allegations in accordance with the constitutional authority granted solely to prosecutors across the state of California.”
Faced with widespread disparagement of the policy, Gascón on Dec. 18 backed down, to an extent, saying in another directive:
“…I have reevaluated Special Directive 20-08 and hereby amend it to allow enhanced sentences in cases involving the most vulnerable victims and in specified extraordinary circumstances. These exceptions shall be narrowly construed.”
Certain aspects of Gascón’s directives were preliminarily enjoined by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant on Dec. 8. The district attorney pointed out to deputies two days later that “the preliminary injunction does not affect office policy restricting the filing of sentence enhancements in new cases” and that “deputies are still prohibited from filing any other sentence enhancements,” except as provided in the Dec. 18 amendment.
Although Special Directive 20-08 does not have specific reference to family law cases, Sonnenberg’s complaint points out that it requires “prosecutors in the Family Violence Division to stop filing “strikes” against rapists and violent domestic abuse suspects,” protesting:
“Filing ‘strikes’ is not discretionary and is required by California Penal Code section 1170.12(d)(1), among other California authority.”
That section says that a “prosecuting attorney shall plead and prove each prior serious and/or violent felony conviction” except as set forth in the next paragraph, which allows an exception “in the furtherance of justice…or if there is insufficient evidence to prove the prior serious and/or violent conviction.”
Her complaint says (with paragraph numbers omitted):
“On or about December 24, 2020, Plaintiff prepared a document entitled ‘Justification for Filing Strikes’ which she attached to three strike criminal filings. This document explained why she refused to adhere to Gascon’s unlawful policies.
“On or about December 28, 2020, Plaintiff disclosed to Gascon that she refused to follow his unlawful policies and that she would continue to file strikes against repeat offenders. After Plaintiff disclosed that Gascon’s Three Strikes policy was illegal. Plaintiff was told that the office’s Appellate Division would look into the matter.
“On or about January 10. 2021. Plaintiff sent a sent a follow-up email to Gascon informing him that he relied upon faulty statistics which claimed that long prison terms created higher recidivism rates. Plaintiff provided Gascon with multiple studies that contradicted Gascon’s unlawful approach to prosecution.”
The pleading recites that she was denied a promotion to head deputy in the division, losing to a less qualified applicant, and has been shifted to the Consumer Protections Division, alleging that this was “in retaliation for her disclosures and refusal to engage in unlawful activities.” It says this is “a dead-end position for Plaintiff since she had no experience in civil law or in the civil courts.”
Both pleadings seek damages in unspecified amounts and attorney fees.
Randolph’s case was assigned to Judge Dennis J. Landin and Sonnenberg’s was routed to Judge Armen Tamrarian.
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