Your Guide To The LA County District Attorney Race
This is part of Voter Game Plan, our project to get you prepped for the 2020 elections. And if you have questions about voting, ask us anything.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney's office is the largest prosecutor's office in the United States. The DA oversees a staff of roughly 1,000 lawyers, 300 investigators and 800 support staff. The office prosecutes everything from misdemeanors to felonies in an area covering more than 4,000 square miles, from the Antelope Valley to Long Beach and from Pomona to Malibu.
This race has attracted national attention, because it's the latest -- and largest -- battleground in a national push to get reformists elected as district attorneys. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote in the March 3 primary, the top two candidates will advance to a runoff in November.
So let's meet the candidates:
DA Jackie Lacey, 62, is a career prosecutor. She joined the L.A. District Attorney's office as a line prosecutor in 1986, and over the years she rose through the ranks. Along the way she headed the major crimes and major narcotics units and the Central Operations Bureau. In 2011 she was elevated to Chief Deputy DA -- the No. 2 position in the department. She was elected DA in 2012 and was re-elected in 2016. She is the first woman and the first African American DA in L.A. County.
Lacey calls herself a "reasonable reformer." She touts her establishment of a mental health division in her office to work on diverting people with mental health issues away from jail. Lacey also set up a Conviction Review Unit to assess claims of actual innocence based on newly discovered evidence. She supports bail reform but not the outright abolition of cash bail. She still seeks the death penalty for "the worst of the worst offenders, including child murderers and serial killers," a spokeswoman said in a statement last year.
George Gascón, 65, is an Army veteran and was a career police officer before becoming a prosecutor. He joined the LAPD in 1978 -- and outside of a five-year hiatus as a car salesman, he spent more than 20 years on the force, rising to Assistant Chief. In 2006 he became police chief of Mesa Arizona, and in 2009 he became police chief of San Francisco. In 2011 he was appointed San Francisco's District Attorney. Gascón was elected to the post later that year and was re-elected in 2015. He stepped down last fall to run for DA in Los Angeles.
Gascón is running as a reformer, arguing that under Jackie Lacey the DA's office "has lost its ability to distinguish the dangerous from the nuisance." He co-authored Prop. 47, which lowered certain drug and theft felonies to misdemeanors. He supported Prop. 57, which made it easier for non-violent prisoners to get parole. He says he would abolish cash bail and stop pursuing the death penalty.
Rachel Rossi, 36, began her career in 2011 in the office of the L.A. County Public Defender's office. She worked there for three years, and then joined the L.A. office of the Federal Public Defender. In 2017 she was detailed to the office of Senator Dick Durbin to work on criminal justice reform on the Senate Judiciary Committee. In February of last year, she became majority counsel to the House of Representatives' subcommittee on crime, terrorism and homeland security. She resigned last September to run for DA.
Rossi is running as a reformer, arguing that Lacey has "an archaic vision of justice." She vows to bring "bold, transformative change" to the DA's office. Rossi says her work as a public defender put her face to face with the fact that the vast majority of jail inmates are African American and Latino. She says she would prosecute far fewer misdemeanors, particularly those committed by homeless people. Rossi would end cash bail and stop pursuing capital punishment.
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A SAMPLING OF THE CANDIDATES' POSITIONS:
Criminal justice reform: Gascón and Rossi stress the need to aggressively tackle what they see as systemic racism in the criminal justice system. Gascon co-authored Prop. 47, which reduced some non-violent felonies to misdemeanors. Rossi supported the measure, while Lacey opposed it, arguing that it led to an uptick in property crime. Lacey says it's important to be aware of things like racial income disparities, but adds, "people make bad decisions." Lacey sees her main priority as protecting the victims of crime.
Bail reform: Gascón and Rossi call for the abolition of cash bail. Rossi criticizes Gascón for not abandoning his use of cash bail during his time as San Francisco DA. Lacey supports bail reform, but not its outright elimination. She supports the state law that would do away with cash bail in most situations (though that law is currently on hold pending the outcome of a November ballot initiative backed by the bail bonds industry that would kill it), while giving judges the opportunity to impose it in cases involving high-level misdemeanors or low-level felonies using a risk assessment tool.
Death penalty: Gascón and Rossi say they won't ever pursue it. Lacey has sought capital punishment in cases that she considers egregious.
Police shootings: Rossi has called for the use of outside prosecutors to investigate police shootings as a way to ensure a fair inquiry. Gascon says he would be willing to consider some sort of independent special prosecutor in such cases. Lacey has defended her handling of officer shootings -- she has filed charges in one case in which an officer fatally shot a civilian. because it's "very, very difficult" to successfully prosecute law enforcement officers for shootings.
- The candidates participated in a live debate on Jan. 29. Read our analysis and watch the full debate here.
- Our profile of Jackie Lacey
- Our profile of George Gascon
- Our profile of Rachel Rossi
- Gascon and Rossi say LA is ready for a progressive DA
- LA Magazine profile of Jackie Lacey
YOUR GUIDE TO THE RACES FOR:
- LAUSD Board District 3 >>
- LAUSD Board District 7 >>
- L.A. County Supervisor 2nd District >>
- L.A. Superior Court Judges >>
- L.A. County Measure R >>
- California Proposition 13>>