SAN FRANCISCO, CA – “Rogue” and “bloodthirsty” county district attorneys from San Mateo, Riverside and San Bernardino are ignoring the constitution and attempting to end Gov. Gavin Newsom’s moratorium on state executions, according to a pleading filed this week with the California First District Court of Appeal.
The filing asks the court to “stop three district attorneys from acting outside of their authority to illegally intervene in a federal lawsuit. The prosecutors seek to undo an agreement between the state and people on death row that followed from Governor Newsom’s moratorium on executions,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Northern California and four local community organizations.
Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement (COPE), Riverside All of Us or None (RAOUON), Starting over Inc., and Silicon Valley De-Bug, along with the ACLU, filed the writ of mandate.
According to the pleading, “The DAs seek to intervene for the specific purpose of undoing and renegotiating this dismissal with the aim of expediting death judgments and limiting time for judicial review of the constitutionality of the methods of execution.
“If the DAs are not enjoined, they would improperly use their three local offices—which, even collectively, represent a small minority of the People of California—under the guise of representing ‘the People’ to undermine the careful bargain reached by the parties in the Lethal Injection Litigation.”
The writ of mandate asks the appeals court to specifically halt the actions of three DAs – San Mateo County District Attorney Stephen Wagstaffe, San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson, and Riverside County District Attorney Michael Hestrin – from “interfering in federal death penalty litigation that is beyond the scope of their legal mandate.”
Describing the actions of the DAs as “brazen overreach,” Emi MacLean, a senior attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, said the DAs are “rogue actors who seek to ignore the constitution and create their own rules. Their lawlessness cannot stand.”
The pleading explains that Wagstaffe, Anderson and Hestrin, have tried “to intervene in a federal death penalty case to fast-track the execution of people who were sentenced to death in their counties” when, under state law, when a private party files a federal lawsuit against the state, only the attorney general is responsible for defending the state’s interest.
“The DAs’ intervention here would open the floodgates to intervention by district attorneys in all manner of cases typically…represented by the Attorney General, such as other civil rights litigation against the state,” said the filing.
“It’s also a question of our humanity—no DA should be permitted to overrule the governor in a bloodthirsty quest for executions. This is a question of prosecutorial accountability,” said Vonya Quarles, executive director of Starting Over, Inc.
Gov. Newsom, in 2019, signed an executive order that put a moratorium on executions and closed San Quentin’s death row, said the ACLU.
“The people on death row then dismissed a long-running constitutional challenge to the state’s execution process. The state agreed that if actions to execute restarted, the case can resume with stays of execution in place during that litigation,” the civil rights group explained.
Calling the DA’s “regressive,” the ACLU told the court the prosecutors are “attempting to interfere in this legal challenge and overturn the agreement,” adding that a district court denied the prosecutors’ previous motion to intervene in the federal case. But undeterred, the prosecutors appealed to the Ninth Circuit which has not yet ruled.
“We have a new crop of progressive district attorneys in California who are working to change policies that have led to the overincarceration of Black and indigenous people and other people of color,” said Rev. Samuel Casey, executive director of COPE.
“It’s not surprising that the old guard is digging in their heels and fighting to defend the policies of yesterday — harsh sentences, and more Black and Brown people locked up for longer. Not on our watch,” he added.
The ACLU Foundations of Northern and Southern California and Coblentz Patch Duffy & Bass LLP are co-counsel representing petitioners.
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