Gascón Reforms Divide California Prosecutors; Some Rank-and-File Lawyers Revolt

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New Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón’s effort to push through sweeping criminal justice reforms has sparked an unprecedented revolt. Rank-and-file Los Angeles prosecutors have sought to block their new boss in court and district attorneys elsewhere in California have said they will not share cases with him, reports Politico. Within weeks of taking office, Gascón instructed prosecutors to stop seeking the death penalty and trying juveniles as adults. He ordered a halt to most cash bail requests and banned prosecutors from appearing at parole hearings. Most controversially, he barred prosecutors from seeking various sentencing enhancements.  His decisions have divided California’s prosecutors: detractors see dangerous and potentially illegal overreach, while his supporters see a leader who is responding to constituent demands for a fairer justice system.

The widening battle is a high-profile microcosm for larger tensions roiling law enforcement in California and around the country.  The California District Attorneys Association has publicly backed the complaints of the Los Angeles prosecutors. District attorneys representing Fresno and Sacramento have said they will not share jurisdiction on any cases with Gascón. Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp said in an interview that Gascón was imperiling people beyond Los Angeles, noting that the impact of crime is felt far beyond the county borders.  Gascón’s allies see a different risk: the law enforcement establishment closing ranks to defy an elected prosecutor’s ability to carry out the will of voters. Dozens of prosecutor allies from around the country underscored those stakes in an amicus brief backing Gascón’s authority, noting “the issues this case raises have national significance.”

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