Two former Los Angeles County district attorneys are among dozens of current and former elected prosecutors to signal support Friday for a series of controversial directives from newly seated District Attorney George Gascon, who is being sued by the Los Angeles County Association of Deputy District Attorneys.
The amicus brief — filed in Los Angeles Superior Court — is signed by former Los Angeles head prosecutors Gil Garcetti and Ira Reiner, among others from around the country.
The brief comes in response to a lawsuit brought by the union representing Los Angeles County deputy district attorneys, which is seeking to bar Gascon from implementing new policies he enacted upon being sworn into office last month, including ending gang and “three strikes” enhancements that he contends have fueled mass incarceration and made communities no safer.
“Historically, prosecutorial discretion has too often been used to impose harsher penalties that have particularly impacted people of color and harmed communities, not made them safer,” Garcetti said.
“District Attorney Gascon made clear — and voters embraced — his intent to reverse that practice. While some prosecutors are having difficulty accepting these changes, there is only one elected official in the D.A.’s office,” said Garcetti, who served as the county’s top prosecutor between 1992 and 2000 and is the father of Mayor Eric Garcetti.
Reiner, who was Los Angeles County’s district attorney from 1984 to 1992, said: “To avoid unequal application of the law throughout an office of over 1,000 DDAs (deputy district attorneys), serving a population of 10 million, broad issues of policy must, of necessity, reside with the elected D.A. consistent with law and ultimately answerable to the public.”
Earlier this week, another former Los Angeles County district attorney, Steve Cooley, who was in the post for 12 years, joined about a dozen former prosecutors in announcing that they had teamed up to provide pro bono representation to victims and their families who are being affected by Gascon’s directives. Cooley described himself as “just one among many” who are concerned with the effects of Gascon’s new policies.
Gascon’s directives include one that advises that “a sentence of death is never an appropriate resolution in any case” and another that directs that special circumstance allegations resulting in a life prison term without the possibility of parole should be dismissed from any case that has already been filed and should not be filed in any new cases.
Since taking office and issuing the guidelines, Gascon has come under fire from some families of crime victims and some of his own prosecutors. Some Superior Court judges have resisted efforts by Gascon’s prosecutors to dismiss special circumstance allegations in murder cases that could carry a life prison sentence without the possibility of parole.
Gascon — who campaigned on criminal justice reform — has said he has a “mandate from the public” and accused opponents of “fear mongering.”
The amicus brief in support of the directives stresses the alleged inherent discretion of elected prosecutors to enact policies that guide who, when and what to prosecute, and argues that Gascon’s reforms are consistent with the interests of justice, public safety and the efficient use of limited resources.
The brief also argues that the prosecutors’ association is seeking to “unlawfully and unconstitutionally” infringe on decisions uniquely entrusted to the county’s top prosecutor and that voters specifically elected Gascon to implement.
“Thousands marched in the streets of Los Angeles over the past few months demanding a transformation of L.A.’s criminal legal system, and millions of voters elected Gascon with a mandate of reform,” said Miriam Krinsky, executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution, the criminal justice reforms organization that coordinated the brief, and a former federal prosecutor in Los Angeles.
“Efforts to prevent the duly elected district attorney from implementing the exact vision and approach to criminal justice overwhelmingly supported by L.A. county voters — and increasingly embraced by communities around the nation — aren’t just an attack on prosecutorial discretion, they’re an attack on our community and our democratic process.”
The brief notes that Gascon immediately sought to reform a number of long-standing prosecutorial practices in his office that research shows have ballooned California’s incarcerated population.
“There is no research that shows sentencing enhancements improve public safety, but there is evidence that excessive sentences increase recidivism and therefore create more victims in the future,” the brief states.
A hearing on the case is set Feb. 2 in downtown Los Angeles.