D.A. Gascón Derided by Challengers Over Special Directives
John McKinney Says That on ‘Day One,’ He Would ‘Repeal and Replace’ All Nine of Them
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Brickbats were hurled at Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón during a candidate forum at which all nine announced prospective election challengers to him were present, and Gascón was not, with special directives which the incumbent issued on Dec. 7, 2020, his first day in office—and, in particular, his ban on seeking sentencing enhancements—coming under fire.
Deputy District Attorney John McKinney made the broadest statement, saying:
“What I will do on Day One is repeal and replace all nine of the directives that George Gascón issued in his first day in office.”
Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami also made a sweeping pronouncement. He declared:
“Most of the policies that George—I would say that all of the policies that he’s created—haven’t worked...and, at least the blanket policies, should all be revoked….”
Former U.S. Assistant Attorney General Nathan Hochman told the audience in the City of Industry, with live coverage being provided over the Internet:
“Certain people who steal just under $950 will never be prosecuted.”
Gascón has announced that his office will not prosecute anyone under the age of 18 on a misdemeanor charge.
“Certain sentencing enhancements—if you use a gun, for instance—will never be prosecuted,” Hochman continued, adding:
“I would remove the blanket policies that have removed the individualized analysis from the greatest asset we have: our deputies, our investigators, our law enforcement partners.”
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Debra Archuleta related:
“The first thing I would do is implement the enhancement that Gascón has illegally revoked on his first day of office. That has disallowed prosecutors as well as law enforcement from using the full arsenal of tools that are available, not only to enforcement, but to the District Attorneys Office. We must do everything including bail enhancement, gun enhancement, strikes, gang enhancement, where possible, to increase the accountability.”
“We need to hold the suspects and the repeat offenders to task by imposing bail and weapons strike allegations. I will immediately reverse Gascón’s policy on that.”
Retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Milton said:
“We need to get the District Attorneys Office back to its core mission—which is public protection.” He argued:
“Any enhancement—guns, great bodily injury—any enhancement, if it can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The most forceful presentation of views was provided by Deputy District Attorney Eric Siddall. He was the candidate seated at the table farthest to the right, from audience’s view—but there was an unoccupied seat at the end of the table with a name plate reading, “George Gascon.”
Siddall repeatedly motioned toward the vacant chair, referring to “this man.”
“We have 13,000 unfiled cases in the D.A.’s Office. You know why?
“Because no one wants to work for us. Because no one wants to work for this man.”
Shortage of Prosecutors
Others also alluded to the shortage of prosecutors. Archuleta said of Gascón:
“He’s had an exodus of prosecutors leave the office. They’re down to about 850 prosecutors.”
The judge, who went on the bench in 2017, recalled that there were “over 1,000” when she was a deputy district attorney, commenting:
“l would try to encourage these D.A.s to come back and do what they sought to do initially in their initial job with the D.A.’s Office.”
She said later in the program:
“No one wants to work for the D.A. right now but I can guarantee that a lot of people under new leadership will want to come back and restore the D.A.’s Office to its former glory.”
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Craig Mitchell said:
“I think the day that Gascon clears out his desk, and one of the people on this stage assumes his office, there is going to be an avalanche of people applying for the District Attorney’s Office. I was a prosecutor in the L.A. D.A.’s Office—there is no better legal job to have, period.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Chemerinsky of the Central District of California, whose criticisms of Gascón has have been far milder than those expressed by the others, said:
“In terms of hiring shortages, I would do two things,” setting forth: “I would aggressively hire” and “I would be a different kind of a leader—a leader who listens, who brings people in, who values the prosecutors in the office.”
Hatami, one of Gascón’s earliest detractors and one of his harshest critics among the challengers, charged:
“We have a district attorney right now who’s a dictator. As a result of that, we’ve lost a lot of district attorneys who are good, honest, working people.
“We also have numerous district attorneys applying for a job who don’t want to work for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office and have left.
“As district attorney, on Day One, I’ll step up and tell everyone that we’re going to start following the law, we’re going to start looking out for our employees, and we’re going to have a more peaceful and cooperative work environment. That means that we’re going to need to work with the Board of Supervisors to hire more deputy district attorneys.”
Hochman advocated taking the case for hiring more deputy district attorneys “not just to the Board of Supervisors but to the public,” explaining:
“That’s where the pressure will be to give the D.A.’s Office more resources to do the cases we need to do.”
He called for the generation of a “torrent of public energy directed at the Board of Supervisors to increase the budget.”
Contradicting the call by Hatami and Hochman for efforts to boost the county’s financing of the office, McKinney said:
“We need a leader that people want to follow. The problem isn’t the money.
“We’re budgeted for 1,059 lawyers. We’re just under 800.
“We’re hemorrhaging lawyers, experienced people, who don’t want to work for George Gascón. They don’t want to work in a place where they feel threatened, when they feel that anything they say or do might become a trigger for retaliation.
“I, myself, have been retaliated against, so I know what that feels like.”
“In my first year as D.A., I will hire 100 new D.A.s. I have already talked to D.A.s who have left the office who have told me, ‘If you become the next D.A., I want to come back.’”
“It’s one thing to stand up here and say, ‘I’m going to hire 100 district attorneys’ or 100 new support staff— but, guess what? We have work with the CEO’s Office and we have to work with the Board of Supervisors to be able to get the items to be able to hire those.
“So, based on my experience, working in senior management, I will be able to do that because I know what the budget process is all about.”
Assailing Gascón, Hatami declared:
“[W]e should have actually a DA who actually cares about being a district attorney. We need a district attorney (who is] not a public defender.”
Siddall said of the incumbent:
“He had a chance. He failed.:
“He has a cite and release policy. That’s what he believes in.”
Hochman expressed this view:
“The public is crying out for someone who will put their interests first rather than criminals’. Law enforcement is looking for a true partner.
“The D.A.’s Office is looking for a true leader. I am that true partner, that leader, who can beat Gasc6n and win this election.”
“Gascón, your time is up. I will beat you.”
Mitchell provided two examples of situations he encountered as a judge which contributed to his decision to run.
“One case came before me just a few months ago. The individual was charged with trafficking 20 kilos of methamphetamine.
“What was the prosecution’s offer in that case? Probation, three days of jail.
“I had another individual come into my court three weeks after George Gascon became district attorney. As opposed to attempted murder, there was no weapons enhancement, and there was no great bodily injury enhancement.”
He asserted that “those examples convey the travesty that has characterized the last three years.”
By contrast, Chemerinsky did not repudiate Gascón’s policies. He said at two points that he favors “social reform” and also said he is opposed to “warehousing” of prisoners.
No State Prosecutions
McKinney, with apparent reference to Chemerinsky and Hochman, remarked:
“Some people on this stage have never even prosecuted a state crime.”
Milton—who became a deputy district attorney in 1978 and remained in the office for nine months—was granted leave by the moderator to interject a protest as to what he thought McKinney said. Apparently under the impression that McKinney had referred to “sex crime,” he said:
“With all due respect to Mr. McKinney, well, I didn’t have a chance to do sex crimes because I was a judge at age 37, and one of the youngest judges in the county.”
The other candidates, responding to a question, told of efforts they would make in cooperation with other agencies, to address the problem of homelessness. Taking a pragmatic stance, Milton said:
“The charge of the district attorney is to prosecute crime for public protection—any crime that can be proven beyond reasonable doubt should be charged. Mental illness, drug addition, those are not crimes.
“The District Attorney’s Office is powerless to address those problems.”
After Hochman mentioned his endorsement by former Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, Milton said:
“I hope this endorsement isn’t politically driven because, as a Cooley backing and all that kind of stuff—I’m not a politician. I’m a hard-working—36 years in public service—and I deserve the same recognition.”
The event was sponsored by the Association of Deputy District Attorneys, Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, the Los Angeles County Professional Peace Officers Association, Los Angeles Police Protective League, Peace Officers Research Association of California, and the Long Beach Police Officers Association.
Poll Shows Gascón Has Minimal Support
The Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs yesterday released a survey indicating that only 14 percent of persons likely to cast ballots in the March 5 primary for district attorney would be inclined to vote for the incumbent, George Gascón.
Conducting the survey, between Sept. 23-26, was RG Strategies, one of the functions of which is undertaking marketing research. The announcement did not set forth the number of voters who were contacted, but a spokesperson for the company said it was 600.
The chart below indicates, in the lightly screened area of a bar, the percentage of voters who are leaning in favor of a candidate and in the dark portion, voters who are “certain” as to their choices.
Eight percent of those surveyed are shown to be leaning toward Gascón and six percent were certain.
Deputy District Attorney Maria Ramirez had the next highest support, with seven percent of those participating favoring her, and Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Debra Archuleta was next, with six percent—reflecting the advantage each has of being a female with a Hispanic surname.
Gascón has nine challengers.
Fifty-two percent of voters were found to be undecided.
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