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Criminal Justice

Campaign To Recall LA DA Gascón Struggles To Gain Traction

A profile image of LA District Attorney George Gascón, who wears glasses and is distinguished by his white hair
Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón was just elected in 2020, but is already the target of a recall campaign.
(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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The campaign to recall L.A. District Attorney George Gascón is struggling to gain traction.

When it was approved to begin gathering signatures in late May, the recall campaign had five months — until Oct. 27 — to collect nearly 580,000 valid signatures of registered voters to get on the L.A. County ballot.

We’re now halfway through that time period, and the recall has collected roughly 175,000 signatures, said spokesman Tim Lineberger.

He said the pandemic has made the signature-gathering effort more difficult.

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While the signatures gathered so far make up less than one-third of the required number, the campaign is in an even deeper hole because, typically, a certain portion of signatures are rejected. By its own estimation, the campaign needs to gather 800,000 signatures by the deadline.

The recall is “flailing,” said Jamarah Hayner, a spokeswoman for the campaign against the effort.

The recall raised nearly $1.1 million through June 30 — that’s almost five times the $237,000 Gascón raised to fight the campaign. But experts say the recall needs to raise at least $5 million to hire enough people to gather signatures.

Gascón has denounced the recall as an effort by backers of former President Trump to unseat him. The financial filings show that among the recall effort’s biggest donors are billionaire L.A. developer Geoffrey Palmer, who is a big Trump supporter, and Robert Day, head of the W.M. Keck Foundation. Both have given $100,000.

Gascón's largest donor to date has been David Mills, a Stanford Law School professor and co-chair of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund who has contributed $50,000. The political action fund of the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters donated $25,000.

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A Claim The DA Has ‘Disregarded The Rule Of Law’

The recall petition claims Gascón “has abandoned crime victims and their families.” It accuses him of endangering public safety by having “disregarded the rule of law and weakened lawful sentencing requirements for the most violent criminals.”

Gascón promised during his campaign to enact a series of reforms in the DA’s office, and his proposal to end the use of so-called sentencing enhancements — seeking longer prison sentences for factors such as using a gun or belonging to a gang — was part of an ambitious agenda he laid out on his first day in office last December.

Less than two weeks later, after coming under intense criticism from prosecutors and victims’ advocates, Gascón made an exception for the small number of cases involving hate crimes, elder abuse, child abuse and sex trafficking.

Vowing to fight systemic racism and policies that led to mass incarceration, Gascón also said in his inaugural address that he would "stop filing first-time misdemeanor offenses associated with poverty and mental health" — so-called "quality of life" crimes such as loitering or public intoxication.

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He promised to stop seeking the death penalty, stop charging juveniles as adults, and to review hundreds of police shootings.

Gascón also promised to end cash bail, and to seek the early release of thousands of state prison inmates whom he said are unfairly serving overly long sentences.

Opposition From His Own Prosecutors And A Court Setback

His reforms have drawn sharp opposition from some prosecutors in the DA’s office and the Association of Deputy District Attorneys, the union that represents line prosecutors.

The union sued Gascón to block his broader sentencing enhancement policy, and it won a partial victory in February when Superior Court Judge James Chalfant issued a temporary order saying the DA could not issue a sweeping order to remove enhancements in all current cases. He said prosecutors would have to argue in each individual case that there wasn't enough evidence to prove them or that removing an enhancement was "in the interest of justice."

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Chalfant did rule that Gascón can prohibit his prosecutors from filing most sentencing enhancements in future cases.
The judge rejected Gascon's attempt to no longer file "strikes," saying the law requires him to do so. Gascon said he would appeal the parts of the ruling he disagrees with.

Some victims’ advocates have loudly backed the recall; it has also attracted the support of Sheriff Alex Villanueva and former L.A. district attorney Steve Cooley.

LAPD Chief Michel Moore has not taken a position on the recall, but he has said he generally supports Gascón’s reforms, even if he doesn’t agree with all of them.

A June rally supporting Gascón drew L.A. County Supervisor Holly Mitchell, L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin, Black Lives Matter-L.A. leader Melina Abdullah, and Father Greg Boyle of Homeboy Industries.

What questions do you have about criminal justice and public safety in Southern California?
Frank Stoltze covers a new movement for criminal justice reform at a time when not everybody shares the same vision.