A motion filed this week in a double murder case seeks to disqualify Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón for among other issues, hiring a former public defender to write his Youth Justice policy when she was still a Deputy Public Defender, representing criminal defendants, allegedly benefitting her criminal clients.
The murder victims are two sisters, Uniek Atkins and Sierra Brown, who were found shot to death in a torched Westchester apartment in 2018. Investigators say, Sierra’s ex-boyfriend Donato Cruikshank set the apartment on fire after killing the sisters. He was 17 years-old, weeks away from his 18th birthday when he was arrested for the double-murder, Fox11 reported.
The victims’ attorney, Kathleen Cady, a former deputy DA turned Marsy’s Law attorney, says DA Gascón ordered this case to stay in juvenile court, which means the most Cruikshank would get, if convicted, would be about seven years in the murder of the two young women, Fox11 reported.
Marsy’s Law ensures that victims of crime have equal, constitutional rights on the same level as those accused and convicted of crimes.
“Given the premeditation that was involved,” Cady said, “the cruelty, the callousness, the coverup… all of those factors… that is just not justice for this family.”
Cady filed a motion in support of a Court Order to disqualify the District Attorney (document below), claiming “From the Victims’ perspective, however, Mr. Gascón’s sustained efforts, both surreptitiously and overtly, have undermined his prosecutorial responsibilities to seek justice and to avoid the appearance of impropriety.”
At issue is DA Gascón’s gutting of long-time legal policies adhered to by the District Attorney’s office. Cady’s lawsuit explains:
“This policy violates victims’ rights because it mandates that prosecutors make motions at the next court appearance with no regard for notifying victims, allowing them an opportunity to confer, or safeguarding their right to attend and be heard at the court proceeding.”
“In this case, DA Gascón has ordered that all Deputy District Attorneys must follow his blanket policy. The Youth Justice Policy does not allow any exceptions and further does not provide for any discretion in how juveniles are treated based on an independent evaluation of each individual case. Because of his mandatory policies which govern each Deputy District Attorney, and order them to withdraw each and every Motion to Transfer without exception, we submit that this is such an extreme case as to merit disqualification, and are hereby moving, under the rights enumerated in the California Constitution, to disqualify, and remove the entire District Attorney Office from prosecuting this case.”
Within weeks of being sworn in as Los Angeles County’s District Attorney, the Globe reported Gascón, issued radical, unlawful “Special Directives,” commanding the deputy district attorneys of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office to violate California’s constitution and laws:
- With respect to future cases, the Special Directives prohibit DDAs from charging mandatory criminal sentencing enhancements under the Three Strikes Law, which California enacted to protect its citizens from previously-convicted serious and violent felons; and
- With respect to pending cases, the Special Directives require DDAs to withdraw all pre-existing enhancement allegations for six different types of sentencing enhancements. These provisions are plainly illegal. DDAs cannot be commanded to violate the very sentencing enhancements that California law mandates.
Attorney Cady also alleges a very serious conflict of interest by one of Gascon’s new employees, Alisa Blair: “If a District Attorney suffers from a conflict, so extreme that they manifest a fundamental inability to be fair to a defendant, or a victim, the District Attorney should be disqualified.”
Where this gets really sticky is the level of involvement of Alicia Blair, recently appointed as a special advisor to DA Gascón. She is a former Deputy Public Defender. In her role as Special Advisor to DA Gascón, she is supervisor of all of the Juvenile Division. However, she wrote Gascón’s Youth Justice policy, issued on December 8, 2020, when she was still a Deputy Public Defender, representing criminal defendants.
“But for, the mandates of DA Gascón which they are obligated to follow, we would never ask the court to disqualify them from prosecuting this case.”
“Although DA Gascón had access to experts in gang crime, sex crime, major narcotic crime, cyber crime, asset forfeit, juvenile, mental health, victims of crime, Brady compliance, ethics, conviction review, re-sentencing of violent offenders, and Habeas practice, he did not consult any of them in developing sweeping policies that literally gut the criminal justice system in Los Angeles County and decimate victims’ rights. Instead, he enlisted criminal defense attorneys, even those with pending cases whose criminal clients directly benefitted from directives they wrote for him. One of those policies was the ‘Youth Justice’ policy which states: The office will immediately END the practice of sending youth to the adult court system. All pending motions to transfer youth to adult court jurisdiction shall be withdrawn at the soonest available court date, including agreeing to defense counsel’s request to advance. Filings will consist of the lowest potential code section that corresponds to the alleged conduct and mandate one count per incident.”
Alicia Blair’s Twitter account came under fire as well:
“George Floyd was killed on May 25, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, while in police custody,” the motion says. “There were protests in Los Angeles County in response to Mr. Floyd’s murder. Some of those protests turned violent and included arson. On August 25, 2020. Alisa Blair tweeted #GeorgeFloydProtest ‘Burn that Shit down.'”
NEW: Twitter accounts belonging to two members of L.A. D.A. candidate George Gascon's Public Policy Committee posted controversial tweets including calling LAPD officers "barbarians", calling for prisons to be abolished, and for protesters to "burn that shit down". 10pm @FOXLA pic.twitter.com/4W4hYzrkVy
— Bill Melugin (@BillFOXLA) August 26, 2020
“The tweets were allegedly posted by Alisa Blair and Tiffany Townend Blacknell, two members of Gascon’s Public Policy Committee,” Bill Melugin reported at Fox 11.
Alicia Blair’s conflict and crossover with her job as a public defender cannot stand, according to Cady:
“She has also confirmed that she, in her role as Special Advisor to the District Attorney, not a sworn Deputy District Attorney representing the People of the State of California, is the person who decides whether a juvenile case qualifies for exception to the Youth Justice Policy. She, who is not a Deputy District Attorney and would not be permitted to represent the People of the State of California in court, is the person who decides whether a case warrants an exception to the policy she penned while a Deputy Public Defender. How can the victims and the public have confidence that the policy authored by Ms. Blair is being implemented fairly; with the respect and concern for victims’ rights: and with the public safety of the People of the State of California, and not just to benefit juveniles charged with committing crimes, in this case Minor Cruikshank.”
Fox11 reported that the tweets by Alisa Blair and Tiffany Townend Blacknell, called LAPD officers “barbarians.”
L.A. D.A. Jackie Lacey slammed the tweets in interview w/ me.
"You shouldn't have anybody on your committee whose talking about burning it down. Abolish prisons? So where do rapists go? Murderers?"
Mr. Gascon's camp says no comment. He landed big @GavinNewsom endorsement today. pic.twitter.com/K5XWJwTDHA
— Bill Melugin (@BillFOXLA) August 26, 2020
As the Globe reported on February 8, 2021 , the Judge James Chalfant granted a preliminary injunction enjoining DA Gascón from requiring deputy district attorneys to ask for courts to take action in criminal cases without a lawful basis.
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.
Judge Chalfant wrote, “The District Attorney’s disregard of the Three Strikes ‘plead and prove’ requirement is unlawful. as is requiring deputy district attorneys to seek dismissal of pending sentencing enhancements without a lawful basis.”
“One of the main concerns that Judge Chalfant raised was the blanket nature of any policy which does not allow for prosecutorial discretion which considers an individualized review and analysis of each case.”YJ39858.Victims Request to Disqualify the District Attorneys Office