In December, the Association of Deputy District Attorneys for Los Angeles County filed a civil lawsuit seeking a writ of mandate, as well as declaratory and injunctive relief, asking that recently elected District Attorney George Gascón follow California state constitutional and statutory law. These laws, enacted by the voters and the state legislature, tested and deemed constitutional by the judiciary, must be respected by the executive.
In January, the California District Attorneys Association announced it would file a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the lawsuit by the Los Angeles ADDAs against Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón because of his radical new directives.
There is good news this Monday in February. The Los Angeles ADDAs just announced:
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant ruled in favor of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys for Los Angeles County (ADDA) in a lawsuit against District Attorney George Gascón. The ADDA brought a civil lawsuit against the District Attorney to seek a court ruling to clarify Deputy District Attorneys’ legal obligations in light of the District Attorney’s directives. It is not about the District Attorney’s beliefs on what criminal laws should be applied or not applied in cases.
The court ruled as we expected in holding that the District Attorney cannot order his prosecutors to ignore laws that protect the public from repeat offenders. As detailed in our reply brief, the court ruled that the District Attorney’s policy violated the law to benefit criminal defendants and ordered him to comply with the law. This ruling protects the communities which are disproportionately affected by higher crime rates and those who are victimized.
The District Attorney, as is his right, may choose to appeal the court’s decision, and we respect that. However, as the court ruling makes clear, this decision was based on what the law is and not what an officeholder thinks it should be. We want to thank the many other elected District Attorneys that shared our concerns and strongly supported the litigation that could not be avoided. We continue to respect the District Attorney, and we look forward to working with him and his Administration in furtherance of the interests of justice and our membership.
The ADDA continues to support common-sense criminal justice reform. One of the underpinnings of proposed reform assumes that an entirely new social infrastructure—complete with educational programs, vocational training, counseling, and supervision—will take the place of standard-length prison sentences. However, that infrastructure does not exist. It is difficult to conclude that letting convicted prisoners out early—without the theoretical support system in place—is likely to do anything but expedite recidivism.
One ADA explained to the Globe: “ADDA’s application for a preliminary injunction is granted in large part. A preliminary injunction will issue that enjoins the District Attorney, through his Special Directives, from:
- (a) requiring deputy district attorneys not to plead and prove strike priors under the Three Strikes law,
- (b) requiring deputy district attorneys to read the statement in Special Directive 20-08.1 to trial courts without adding qualifying language concerning Kilborn and other controlling case law and without having legal grounds to seek dismissal under section 1385,
- (c) compelling deputy district attorneys to move to dismiss strike priors or any existing sentencing enhancement in a pending case without having legal grounds as required by section 1385,
- (d) compelling deputy district attorneys to move to dismiss or withdraw special circumstance allegations that would result in a LWOP sentence without legal grounds as required by sections 1385 and 1386, and
- (e) compelling deputy district attorneys not to use proven special circumstances for sentencing in violation of section 1385.1. The preliminary injunction will not enjoin the District Attorney from preventing deputy district attorneys from charging sentencing enhancements in new cases where not required by the Three Strikes law.”
“While an elected District Attorney has wide discretion in determining what charges to pursue in an individual case, that discretion does not authorize him or her to violate the law or to direct attorneys representing the district attorney’s office to violate the law,” Michele Hanisee, President of the ADDA explained when they filed the lawsuit.
“As detailed in the lawsuit, the directives violate California law, which imposes a mandatory duty on prosecutors to plead and prove strike priors. Dismissals of those priors can only be based on individual circumstances, not a blanket policy. Similarly, special circumstance allegations that will result in a life without parole sentence cannot be dismissed under the section cited by the directive.”
“Los Angeles County prosecutors have been placed in an impossible position,” ADDA Vice President Eric Siddall said. “Do we follow our legal and ethical responsibilities and risk getting disciplined, even fired, by our new boss?”
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