By David M. Greenwald
Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón announced this week that he was resigning from the regressive California District Attorneys Association, arguing that the organization “continues to be a member organization solely for those willing to toe the ‘tough on crime’ line. For the rest of us, it is a place that fails to support us, our communities, or the pursuit of justice.”
He then added, “The absence of a single person of color on CDAA’s 17-member board is blinding.” He added, “This is the leadership that sets the direction for an organization of elected prosecutors, all of which disproportionately prosecute communities of color at a time when the nation is facing a reckoning over systemic racism, and in a state with a plurality of minorities, no less. Whether by ignorance or defiance, the extent to which CDAA has lost touch with the public its members are elected to represent and serve is just baffling.”
The CDAA suffers from structural problems because its membership is derived from a formula of one county, one member. That gives disproportionate power to small, rural, conservative counties.
As a result, CDAA which is headed by Vern Pierson of El Dorado County and has Jeff Reisig as a Vice President, is disproportionately white and disproportionately rural.
Like Reisig in Yolo County, the CDAA has been on the wrong side of criminal justice reform, opposing everything from Prop 47 to Prop 57 to bail reform to juvenile sentencing reform and more. Recently both Pierson and Reisig’s offices fought against the constitutionality of SB 1437, felony murder reform, and lost.
As Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager wrote in the Appeal on February 1, “After years of misappropriating millions of dollars, opposing criminal justice reform, and ignoring the will of voters, the CDAA must be held to account by the governor and the attorney general.”
Kamlager added, “It appears that the CDAA’s real purpose is to fight every criminal legal reform that comes to California. While it lobbies behind the scenes to water down reform legislation, the association’s public face is also one of vehement opposition to any policy with the potential to reduce California’s prison population.”
Meanwhile, the Appeal reported this week that a statewide poll from “Data for Progress and The Lab, a policy vertical of The Appeal, shows that a majority of California voters have an unfavorable view of the CDAA, distrust the organization, and believe that it is most interested in protecting its own members over the public.”
While we must view this poll with some skepticism, wondering how much people actually know about the CDAA, their polling found that when informed of the audit findings, “58% of voters, including 62% of Republicans, said that they find the CDAA either not very or not at all trustworthy,” “46% of voters, including 53% of Republicans, said that they would be less likely to support a policy if the CDAA is in favor of it,” “61% of voters, including 71% of Republicans, believe that the CDAA is most interested in protecting its own members” and overall the unfavorable view runs 52 percent to just 23 percent.
This week CDAA President Vern Pierson pushed back on Fox News (of course) “accusing Gascón of a ‘publicity stunt’ and said he hasn’t been a member of the group for several years.”
“Mr. Gascón cannot resign because he has not been a member of CDAA since October 2019 when he quit his job as DA of San Francisco,” Pierson said in a statement.
That is a technicality of course. He had been a member up until he resigned his previous position. His predecessor Jackie Lacey was, in fact, in line to become president of CDAA, so his decision whether you call it resignation or declining to join is meaningful.
Piersen pushed back on the issue of race and ethnicity, arguing, “On the ethnicity issue, his remarks are disingenuous, as he ran against the first sitting Los Angeles District Attorney who was both a woman and an African American.”
But he then noted, “This appears to be a publicity stunt to divert attention from his favoring criminals at the expense of victims and growing calls for his recall.”
He also noted, “Shootings and other violent crimes are skyrocketing in LA”—although ironically that would fall onto his predecessor if you want to argue anything, given that Gascón just took office, his policies are not in effect, and crime, if you will, was rising well before he was sworn in.
What Pierson fails to acknowledge is the Gascón’s victory over Lacey was a refutation by the Los Angeles voters of the CDAA policies. The voters tossed out the incumbent in part because of her failure to hold police accountable and in part because voters as a whole—as embodied in recent polling—support a more holistic approach to criminal justice.
Holding people in custody well past the point of their being dangerous is not good public safety, doesn’t make the community safer and soaks up vital resources that could be better spent elsewhere.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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