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Deputy DA’s Union Sues Gascón Over Sentencing Changes

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George Gascon, candidate for Los Angeles County District Attorney, speaks to attendees at the local Democratic Party's drive-in watch party near the L.A. Zoo on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)
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The Association of Deputy District Attorneys for Los Angeles County — the union that represents roughly 800 deputy DAs — filed a lawsuit Wednesday claiming L.A. County District Attorney George Gascón’s sweeping changes to the local criminal justice system violate California law.

Gascón’s new directives, which order deputy DAs to dismiss some sentencing enhancements, have seen significant pushback in recent days. During his first weeks in office, Gascón directed deputy DAs to no longer seek extended sentencing in some circumstances, including a defendant’s involvement with a gang, the use of a gun or having a criminal history.

“Data shows these harsh tactics compromise our community’s long-term health and safety, create more hardened criminals and victims, and therefore are not in the interests of justice,” Gascón said in a statement in response to the legal action, adding, “After a summer of unrest, Los Angeles County voters embraced this new, modern approach.”

But according to the assistant DA’s union, the new directives “ignore or violate” current California law, which it said in a press release “imposes a mandatory duty on prosecutors to plead and prove strike priors.”

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Union president Michele Hanisee said an elected DA does have broad discretion in determining which charges to pursue on a case-by-case basis. “But — here’s a big but — that discretion does not authorize him or her to violate the law with a blanket policy refusing to enforce particular law, ever,” she said.

Hanisee added that Gascón’s directives put prosecutors in an “impossible situation” by forcing them to choose between upholding current law or defying their supervisors’ orders and risking “getting disciplined or even fired.”

The union also petitioned the court for a temporary restraining order, which would have halted the implementation of Gascón’s orders, but ultimately withdrew its request after a judge said he would deny it.

L.A.’s office of Countywide Communications said it does not comment on pending legal matters, but issued a statement saying: “However, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has made it clear that justice reform continues to be one of its six major priorities with the goal of reducing the number of inmates with mental health and/or substance use disorders."

In his response, Gascón said despite the legal challenge, he believes “a collaborative path exists to achieve these goals based on what research shows, what voters want, and what L.A. County deserves.”

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Black Lives Matter Los Angeles released a statement on Wednesday in support of Gascón's position on sentencing enhancements.

This post has been updated with additional details from the county.