It’s official: the campaign to recall Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón is underway.
Since shortly after he took office in December 2020, the 67-year-old Gascón has faced a recall push by law-enforcement officials, the families of crime victims, and led by one of his own deputy DAs.
On Thursday, the Los Angeles County Registrar’s Office announced it has approved for circulation a petition to recall Gascón. Mike Sanchez, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk, told Los Angeles in an emailed statement that “we can confirm that the amended petitions on the recall attempt for George Gascon were found to meet the Election Code requirements and our office has notified the proponents—they can now begin public circulation and signature gathering.”
To trigger a recall election, proponents will have till no later than October 27, 2021, to gather the 579,062 valid signatures required, a total that amounts to 10 percent of the registered voters in Los Angeles County, according to a letter the Registrar’s Office sent to a representative of the recall effort that Los Angeles reviewed.
This makes Gascón the first elected district attorney in the 171-year history of Los Angeles County to be the target of a recall attempt. Statewide, he joins Chesa Boudin, the progressive San Francisco DA against whom petitions for recall were approved for circulation in March.
In a statement responding to the approval, the Recall George Gascón campaign announced that the petitions will be available for download online “within the next twenty-four hours” and that any recall election would “likely take place in 2022.”
From the day Gascón was sworn in as Los Angeles County’s 43rd District Attorney, he has wasted no time ushering in reforms aimed at remaking the nation’s largest prosecutor’s office. Doing away with cash bail, capital punishment, the use of sentencing enhancements, the charging of juveniles as adults, and prosecutions of most nonviolent misdemeanors, Gascón has set his new office apart from decades of traditional law-enforcement strategy in Los Angeles, which he has called “a poster child for the failed tough-on-crime approach.”
Gascón and other progressives argue that reflexive opposition to his policies—like ending sentencing enhancements and no longer sending representatives to parole hearings—leads to unjustifiably long prison sentences and does harm to communities. But in February, a judge blocked Gascón from carrying out significant parts of his criminal justice reforms, issuing an injunction requested by the union that represents Gascón’s own prosecutors. The ruling forced the progressive DA to adjust his policy to end sentencing enhancements. Gascón’s office is appealing.
The former LAPD commander-turned San Francisco district attorney was lifted into office on the giant wave of public outrage that followed the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Gascón has previously invoked Floyd’s death, saying, “Those in the profession of holding people accountable cannot themselves escape accountability.” But the recall effort kicks off at a time when violent crime in L.A. is on the rise. Shootings in L.A. increased 73 percent during the first four months of this year.
Another lightning-rod Gascón policy that generated controversy was the DA’s directive to no longer send representatives to parole hearings.
“The outpouring of support for the recall movement and our fight to bring justice for victims has truly been amazing and is growing everyday as more residents learn about the destructive real-world impacts of Gascon’s policies,” said Tania Owen, the recall campaign’s co-chair in a statement.
Owen is the widow of slain L.A. Sheriff’s Department sergeant Steve Owen, who was murdered execution style in 2016 by a parolee with two prior convictions. Her crusade against Gascón dates back to her anger at special directives the DA introduced that removed the death penalty as punishment, and ended the application of the Three Strikes Law and the use of sentencing enhancements, which can add many years to a sentence for factors like the use of a firearm.
Former L.A. district attorney Steve Cooley and former county Supervisor Michael Antonovich are listed among those backing the Gascón recall effort. Surprisingly, one of the leaders of the recall effort is Jon Hatami, a 15-year prosecutor who heads the DA’s child abuse unit, and who is suing Gascón, the county, and a Gascón spokesperson for libel, defamation, retaliation, and the creation of a hostile work environment.
In a statement, Hatami said that the approval signals that victims of violent crime, survivors, and their family members “are demanding the DA follow the law and put an end to his dangerous blanket policies that are making our communities less safe.”
It was the fourth attempt at approval for the petition, which was rejected on technical grounds the previous three tries.
Max Szabo, a spokesman for Gascón, pointed to the DA’s decisive win, saying, “This recall is led by the same forces that fought his election and lost by a quarter million votes in November. There’s a finish line in politics and it’s called Election Day. If you lose, train in the off season and be ready to go next time.”
Recall organizers say they plan to hold a press conference in the coming days to formally kick off the petition drive.
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