Strong Reaction to LA Court Ruling on Both Sides of the Issue

George Gascón at a candidate’s forum in February last year

By David M. Greenwald

When a Los Angeles Superior Court Judge, James Chalfant, issued a ruling granting a temporary injunction against DA George Gascón being able enforce his special directives preventing deputy district attorneys from charging 3rd strikes and other sentencing enhancements to cases, it was a ruling that struck at the heart of his reform agenda.

Responding to the ruling, the LA County Public Defenders union tweeted, “Today’s ruling will not deter us or our community partners from working toward a more equitable and data-informed legal system. Three Strikes are embedded with racism and do not make our communities safer.”

They added, “We stand with the elected DA of LA County’s commitment to confront and dismantle the persistent systemic racism in our legal system.”

DA Gascón on his (@LADAOffice) DA’s office twitter account responded, “Today, District Attorney George Gascón issued the following statement in response to Superior Court Judge James Chalfant’s ruling in the lawsuit against District Attorney George Gascón’s directives…

“On November 3, more than 2 million people in Los Angeles County voted for a system of justice based on science and data, not fear and emotion,” he tweeted.  “Nevertheless, I never had any illusions as to the difficulty and challenges associated with reforming a dated institution steeped in systemic racism.”

He continued: “My directives are a product of the will of the people, including survivors of crime, and a substantial body of research that shows this modern approach will advance community safety. While Judge Chalfant’s ruling does not impact the vast majority of my directives, the court did rule specifically on my Three Strikes policy.”

He argued, “The ruling is novel in that it requires my office to apply the Three Strikes law contrary to the current practice in Los Angeles County and other jurisdictions across the state.”  As a result, he said, “our legal team will be filing a notice of appeal. Until the appeal is decided, my office will adjust its policies to be consistent with this ruling.”

He added, “We can no longer afford – morally, socially or economically – to justify tough-on-crime policies in the name of victims when a majority of the survivor community supports rehabilitation over excessive sentences.  The long-term health and safety of our community depend on it.”

Meanwhile, the California District Attorneys Association celebrated the ruling, writing they “commend” the ruling and noting that they “filed an amicus brief supporting the ADDA in its civil lawsuit against District Attorney Gascón, believing his Special Directives violate the legal and ethical obligations of Los Angeles County’s deputy district attorneys.”

“Today’s ruling makes clear that District Attorney Gascón cannot ignore the law or prosecutor ethics in his rush to impose dangerous so-called criminal justice reforms in Los Angeles County. We are very grateful for Judge Chalfant’s thorough and thoughtful decision — a decision that we believe well serves the cause of justice and public safety,” said CDAA Chief Executive Officer Greg Totten.

In a release, the CDAA said: “CDAA is not a regulatory body and does not typically address policy differences among the 58 elected District Attorneys. However, CDAA believes it must act when policies implemented by an individual district attorney go beyond the exercise of discretion to contravene the state constitution and prosecutor ethics.”

“We support true criminal justice reform, but you cannot simply dispense with existing laws that protect crime victims because you decide you disagree with them,” said Vern Pierson, El Dorado County District Attorney and CDAA President.

Sacramento DA Anne Marie Schubert offered the following: “District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert applauds the Honorable James Chalfant, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge, for ordering the Los Angeles District Attorney to follow the law.

“As District Attorney, our legal and ethical duty is to enforce the law, not make the law.  Sensible improvements to the justice system – including appropriate alternatives to incarceration – can be achieved without a wholesale abandonment of prosecutorial duties and victims’ rights. Today is a great day for crime victims and public safety. ”

Yolo County DA Jeff Reisig, Vice President of CDAA, did not comment on the ruling.

In a scathing editorial, the LA Times Editorial Board wrote that “Archaic ‘tough-on-crime’ holdouts are refusing to let George Gascón do his job.”

They argued that the judge left out some things from his ruling.

“He failed to mention that those excessively punitive policies went hand in hand with a costly prison-building boom and gave new clout to the prison guards’ union, and that even after adding nearly 30 new prisons, creating a network designed to hold 85,000 inmates, about 165,000 people were stuffed into prisons, leaving no space or money for adequate medical care, mental health treatment or rehabilitation programs,” they write.

Nor did he mention the receiver that a federal judge put the state under until they stopped “ongoing violations of the 8th Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment, or that crime continued a precipitous drop after the prisons were depopulated.”

The Times writes: “The ruling helps show how far California has yet to go in reforming its criminal justice system in the face of thousands of prosecutors, law enforcement officers and judges who have served their entire careers immersed in the 1970s philosophy that crime survivors are best served when courts hand down the longest possible sentences.”

The Times concludes: “L.A. County voters chose to continue on a path toward reform and away from the policies of the 1970s. Elections mean little if victors are denied the ability to shift direction.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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