Two former Los Angeles County district attorneys have lent their support to a legal action by the union representing Los Angeles County deputy district attorneys to prevent what the rank and file maintain is the hiring of unqualified candidates, including some from the Public Defender’s Office, by current District Attorney George Gascón.
Steve Cooley and Jackie Lacey submitted sworn declarations Wednesday backing the Association of Deputy District Attorneys’ request for a preliminary injunction against Gascón and the District Attorney’s Office which asks a judge to order the defendants to refrain from hiring public defenders or other candidates deemed unqualified under Civil Service rules for the deputy district attorney grade positions of 2 through 5.
Earlier this year, Gascón hired former longtime Deputy Public Defenders Alisa Blair, Tiffiny Blacknell and Shelan Joseph. Blacknell and Joseph were hired for grade 4 positions and Blair to a grade 3 slot although none took and passed competitive exams as required by Civil Service rules and the County Charter, the Los Angeles Superior Court petition states.
A hearing on the preliminary injunction is scheduled Wednesday before Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff.
The 64-year-old Lacey, who was District Attorney from 2012-20, said that during that time there were no lateral transfers of deputy public defenders or alternate public defenders into deputy district attorney positions.
“The lack of any lateral transfers of deputy public defenders or deputy alternate public defenders into positions of deputy district attorneys for the past 15 years is because the skill sets for public defenders and alternate public defenders are different than those of prosecutors,” Lacey said. “They are not similarly situated professionals.”
The only way employees of the Public Defender’s Office or the Alternate Public Defender’s Office can demonstrate that they possess the skills and aptitudes required to perform the duties of a deputy district attorney is to start in the office as a new hire and establish their skills to the satisfaction of their supervisors, Lacey said.
To demonstrate their possession of the skills and aptitudes necessary to hold the positions of deputy district attorney grades 3 or 4 candidates must additionally pass the promotional examination for each such rank, according to Lacey, who was hired by the District Attorney’s Office as a grade 1 deputy after having served as a city attorney for the city of Santa Monica.
The 74-year-old Cooley, Lacey’s predecessor, served as District Attorney from 2000-12 and says there also were no lateral transfers of deputy public defenders nor alternate public defenders to the position of deputy district attorney during his tenure.
“The years of experience as a Los Angeles County District Attorney are required prior to promotion in order to ensure the candidate’s familiarity with and adherence to all the policies and procedures of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office,” Cooley said.
In another sworn declaration, Elizabeth J. Gibbons, the union’s attorney, said that a day before Judge Mary H. Strobel denied her clients’ request for a temporary restraining order on Oct. 15, Gascón’s office promoted 53 internal candidates eligible for grade 3 positions. One of them, Deputy District Attorney Maria Ghobadi, said in her declaration that Gascón personally called her with the news.
Ghobadi says that while she was “extremely happy to be promoted,” the timing seemed “very suspicious.”
“I have been concerned since my Oct. 14 telephone conversation with Mr. Gascón that the promotion might be denied at a later time,” Ghobadi says.