ADDA Sues Gascón Over Denial of Its CPRA Requests
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Suit has been brought by the Association of Deputy District Attorneys seeking to compel compliance with its requests under the California Public Records Act.
The Association of Deputy District Attorneys yesterday announced that it has filed an action against Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón aimed at compelling him to provide records which the prosecutors’ group contends are not exempt from disclosure and are being wrongfully withheld.
Its complaint, filed Wednesday, also names the County of Los Angeles and the District Attorney’s Office as respondents.
Suing under the California Public Records Act (“CPRA”) for a writ of mandate and declaratory relief, the ADDA wants documents relating to the hiring of Gascón’s chief of staff, Tiffiny Blacknell, as well as Special Advisor Alisa Blair and Special Counsel Shelan Joseph. All three women were deputy public defenders when Gascón brought them aboard at the outset of his administration in December 2020.
The ADDA also seeks records relating to attorneys Alex Bastian and Maxwell Szabo of San Francisco. Bastian was assistant chief attorney under Gascón when he was district attorney of San Francisco and became a special adviser to Gascón in Los Angeles in January 2021, leaving after a year-and-a-half.
Szabo was spokesperson for Gascón when he was San Francisco district attorney, opened up a public relations firm, and became spokesperson for Gascón upon his election to his present post.
Request Narrowed, Rejected
After the District Attorney’s Office protested that the public records request was so broad that compliance would be overly burdensome, attorney Richard Shinee of Brown Green & Shinee, acting for the ADDA, narrowed the request. It then covered communications between the Gascón’s office and Blacknell, Blair, and Joseph for a 12-day period—Feb. 8, 2021 through Feb. 19, 2021—and between that office and Bastian and Szabo for a 20-day period: Dec. 7, 2020 to Dec. 27, 2020.
By letter of July 1, 2021, Special Assistant Kimberly Toney responded on behalf of Gascón that the request “remains unduly burdensome and is respectfully declined,” elaborating:
“Your request is too expansive and has yielded a voluminous number of records. Each of the records would need to be individually reviewed to ensure that they were responsive and not a ‘false positive.’ Also, a further review would be necessary to ensure that privileged, confidential, and otherwise exempt materials contained therein are redacted.”
Toney added that the request, as it pertained to the hiring of Blacknell, Blair and Joseph “seeks employee personnel records,” remarking:
“Please note that potentially responsive records containing private information of individuals is protected by the constitutional right of privacy, including statutory and common law privileges….Additionally, records containing personnel, medical, and/or private information are exempt or prohibited from disclosure by State or Federal law.”
Nonetheless, some emails were provided, but most of the content was redacted.
Various other public records requests were made, including one seeking records of payments by the District Attorney’s Office to Christine Soto DeBerry and to the organization she heads, Prosecutors Alliance of California, which is funded by Tides Advocacy, which has sponsored various movements seen by some as radical.
The complaint seeks records in response to six spurned requests, the latest dated Dec. 4, 2023, seeking “the defendants’ names and case numbers for all pending capital habeas cases.”
Deputy District Attorney Michele Hanisee, president of the ADDA, commented:
“The public must be aware of George Gascón’s lack of transparency. His calculated and persistent refusal to comply with California’s freedom of information law is one of the worst examples of that, but it’s not the only one. Voters deserve to know his entire record before they vote.”
Ryan Erlich, vice president of the 800-plus member organization, added:
“George Gascón is quick to take credit for other prosecutors’ victories, but he’s even quicker to hide his failures. We’re using California’s freedom of information law to ask about some of those failures. A million-dollar-plus no-bid contract with little work to show for it, outside consultants calling the shots on policy and staffing, serious cases handled and dismissed in secret (with seven-figure judgments), and political allies appointed to high-ranking and high-paid public positions.
“Why is he running from public disclosure on these issues? What’s he got to hide?”
The ADDA said in a statement:
“It’s disheartening that legal action is necessary to obtain public documents from the District Attorney. The California Public Records Act explicitly mandates that public institutions promptly make copies of public records available without unnecessary delays. Unfortunately, George Gascón continues violating the CPRA, failing to provide the requested documents promptly and unlawfully prolonging the response process.”
Representing the ADDA, in addition to Shinee, is Elizabeth J. Gibbons.
Pending before the California Supreme Court is Gascón’s appeal from a June 2022 opinion by Div. Seven of this district’s Court of Appeal largely upholding a 2021 Los Angeles Superior Court decision, obtained by the ADDA, blocking implementation of some of Gascón’s special directives, issued on his first day of office. In particular, Gascón sought to bar deputies from seeking enhancements and to seek the withdrawal of enhancement allegations in filings under his predecessor, Jackie Lacey.
Gascón is running for reelection and is facing 11 opponents in the March 5 primary. The ADDA board has endorsed the association’s former vice president, Deputy District Attorney Eric Siddall, and, according to the results of a plebiscite, the members overwhelmingly favor Deputy District Attorney John McKinney.
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