We are just about a week out from the primary election and, aside from the presidential race, one of the big races we are following is the Los Angeles District Attorney race. We were down in Los Angeles ten days ago for a candidate debate that the incumbent skipped out on, but we are closely watching incumbent Jackie Lacey as she is opposed by two progressive DA candidates—George Gascón and Rachel Rossi.
It’s George Gascón, the recent DA in San Francisco, who has moved back to LA that gets a shot in the arm from a major endorsement.
The Times position: “L.A. County needs a criminal justice innovator. George Gascón could be that leader.”
The editorial board points out that Jackie Lacey, in 2012, had actually run as a reformer herself, defeating “a traditional tough-on-crime prosecutor to become Los Angeles County district attorney.”
The Times noted: “Voters seemed to appreciate her cautious openness to new thinking, and indeed some of her policies — especially her program to divert some mentally ill people from prosecution to treatment — were refreshingly forward-looking. She was reelected in 2016 without opposition.”
However, as they describe it, the voters have moved further than Jackie Lacey is willing to go.
“They have embraced criminal justice reforms that call on law enforcement leaders and prosecutors to focus their resources on the most serious and dangerous crimes while recognizing the corrosive effect that excessive enforcement targeting more petty crimes has on communities already bearing the burden of racial bias,” the Times writes. “They have called on their leaders to reject fear-based prosecution and instead look to evidence: What policies promote public safety, justice, reduced recidivism and healthy communities?”
So, what once looked like “comforting caution” now “sometimes looks more like resistance to change.”
The Times hammers her for opposing Prop. 47, “a landmark reform measure to convert simple possession of small amounts of drugs and some petty thefts from felonies to misdemeanors. When it passed, she was slow to embrace the changes it brought, and could not adequately report how the decrease in felony prosecutions affected her office’s budget and workload.”
Further they note: “She at first opposed any change to the money bail system that keeps poor people in jail before trial while freeing those who can buy their way out; and when she later became more open to bail reform, she used her considerable clout to block an early legislative version of a money-bail ban.”
Moreover, “She continues to support the death penalty, despite moral and practical overwhelming arguments against it. Although she merits respect for launching a mental health diversion program, its progress has been somewhat plodding.”
In the meantime, time seems to have passed her up as “voters in dozens of other cities and counties around the nation have elected prosecutors who embrace a more vigorous approach to criminal justice reform.”
The Times writes: “Those prosecutors have rejected a system largely based on an unforgiving war on drugs, and a prosecutorial system that too often looks for every possible reason to imprison offenders for the longest possible sentences.”
They add: “Skeptics sometimes argue that progressive prosecutors may be more concerned about the mistreatment of defendants and convicts than with the pursuit of public safety. But for the most part this movement has focused on smart reforms that will help make criminal justice more effective and less costly, and making people safer while making the system fairer.”
So why George Gascón? According to the LA Times, he is a former LA Police Officer who became assistant chief, then police chief in Mesa, Arizona, and San Francisco.
He would be appointed to San Francisco DA after Kamala Harris became Attorney General.
They note that “(he) is one of those more progressive prosecutors. He co-wrote Proposition 47, essentially eliminated money bail in his jurisdiction, and authored legislation and instituted policies aimed at reducing the outsize role of poverty and race in criminal justice. He is one of two candidates challenging Lacey.”
They continue: “Los Angeles County is the nation’s largest prosecutorial jurisdiction and its district attorney should be a leader and a trendsetter in the administration of justice. Gascón could be that leader. He’s the better choice than Lacey.
“Gascón is an innovative thinker and experienced administrator who is adept at using data to craft policy and monitor progress. He is an advocate for effective reform in a way that Lacey is not.”
They acknowledge that, unlike Ms. Lacey, George Gascón is not an experienced trial attorney. This was a problem in San Francisco, and they note “he will have to earn the respect of the office’s veteran prosecutors. But the district attorney’s role is to set the office’s course, not to argue before a jury. He is up to the job.”
Writes the Times, Ms. Lacey is “not a retrograde, old-style, tough-on-crime prosecutor, nor is she in league with police unions to protect officers from prosecution for excessive use of force. But neither is she the energetic innovator and leader that L.A. County needs. It is time to thank her for her service and opt for Gascón.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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