L.A. Prosecutors Are at Loggerheads with Their New Boss, George Gasc贸n

The union that represents local prosecutors filed suit against the new DA earlier this week

On Wednesday afternoon, a judge ordered Los Angeles County鈥檚 new District Attorney, George Gasc贸n, to show why the court shouldn鈥檛 block criminal-justice reforms he has issued in the weeks since taking office on December 7鈥攔eforms county prosecutors say ignore or violate state law.

The order by L.A. Superior Court Judge David Cowan was in response to a lawsuit that the union representing county prosecutors filed against Gasc贸n earlier that day. At issue is a series of executive actions Gasc贸n issued that bar prosecutors from charging criminal sentencing enhancements under the Three Strikes Law and direct them to withdraw all pre-existing enhancement allegations for factors like gang affiliation or possession of a firearm.

In the 18-page complaint, the Association of Deputy District Attorneys of Los Angeles argues that Gasc贸n has overstepped his executive authority with directives they say conflict with California鈥檚 mandatory sentencing enhancement laws. The new DA鈥檚 directives, the lawsuit says, 鈥渁re not merely radical, but plainly unlawful.鈥

The legal battle offers a window into the post-election conflict that is roiling inside the country鈥檚 largest prosecutor鈥檚 office. Gasc贸n, 66, campaigned on a promise to soften the adversarial stance of the office and 鈥渢urn the tide of mass incarceration and start anew.鈥 County prosecutors say that their new boss is forcing them to choose between upholding state law established to hold people accountable and protect public safety and obeying the blanket directives to keep their jobs.

鈥淟os Angeles County prosecutors have been placed in an impossible position. Do we follow our legal and ethical responsibilities and risk getting disciplined, even fired, by our new boss?鈥 ADDA vice president Eric Siddall said in a statement. 鈥淥r do we follow his policy directives and risk losing our California State Bar Cards and, by extension, our ability to practice law anywhere in the state? We鈥檙e asking a court to answer those questions.鈥

Judge Cowan鈥檚 order gives Gasc贸n until January 15 to oppose the union鈥檚 request for a court injunction. Gasc贸n must show why prosecutors should be prohibited from pleading and proving prior strikes under California鈥檚 Three Strikes Sentencing Initiative, or required to dismiss prior strike enhancements, gang enhancements, and firearm allegations from a pending criminal proceedings.

In a statement following the ruling, Gasc贸n said that 鈥渆nhancements and strike allegations have never been shown to enhance our safety.鈥

鈥淎fter a summer of unrest, Los Angeles County voters embraced this new, modern approach. The will of the voters must not be mistaken as a commentary on the hundreds of Deputy DAs who labor, day in and day out, to protect the public,鈥 he said.

Statements from Gasc贸n鈥檚 supporters began circulating online on Tuesday.

鈥淲e are confident this attempt to obstruct the will of the voters will be struck down,鈥 said one letter signed by UC Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky and Michael Romano of Stanford Law School鈥檚 Three Strikes Project.

Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and Miriam Krinsky of the reform-oriented group Fair and Just Prosecution were among those voiced their support for the embattled DA.

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