By Frank Stoltze, Excerpted from LAist
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office is in turmoil.
Prosecutors opposed to DA George Gascón’s reform agenda and unhappy with his management practices overwhelmingly support his removal — just 16 months after he assumed office.
Gascón is seeking to make the criminal justice system less punitive. He says his policies are designed to end mass incarceration and racial disparities, and that he wants to turn the system “upside down.”
His prosecutors, in large numbers, do not.
“There’s a lot of us who are dispirited and feel beat down,” Deputy DA Ryan Erlich told us.
“It’s horrible. The morale sucks,” said one longtime prosecutor who did not want his name used because he feared retaliation. “It’s not a pleasant place.” He said Gascón is “dismantling the criminal justice system in L.A.”
Gascón said these are recalcitrant prosecutors who refuse to “evolve” and embrace a fairer, more humane approach to justice.
The fierce resistance to his policies may be viewed as a “badge of honor,” said USC Law Professor Jody Armour, who is a Gascón supporter. “This kind of dissension is real evidence of transformative change.”
At the same time, Armour said some level of “domestic tranquility” is needed for the DA to be successful.
Policies Slammed As Giving ‘The Defense Bar’ What It Wants
The DA faced intense opposition to his policies from his first day in office in Dec. 2020, when he issued a series of far-reaching directives:
- He ordered prosecutors to stop seeking extra-long sentences for people accused of using a gun or being a gang member while committing a crime.
- He banned his staff from prosecuting juveniles as adults.
- He said he would no longer seek the death penalty, and prohibited prosecutors from seeking life sentences without the possibility of parole.
- He said he would stop filing first-time misdemeanor charges for “quality of life” offenses “associated with poverty and mental health,” such as loitering or public intoxication.
- He said the DA’s office would never oppose a person’s release on parole, saying the two options were support or neutrality.
After 100 days, Gascón proudly announced that he had eliminated 8,127 years of “unnecessary, excessive and expensive exposure to prison time” — a statistic no previous L.A. DA would have wanted, much less touted.
“The policies read as if he went around to the defense bar and asked the defense bar what they wanted,” said Deputy DA John McKinney.
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