A Los Angeles County judge issued a preliminary injunction Monday against District Attorney George Gascón’s special directives that he implemented to shorten prison sentences. Gascón said he will appeal.
Judge James C. Chalfant ruled that his reforms are “unlawful” and that he cannot dismiss the allegations “without legal grounds.”
“The district attorney’s disregard of the Three Strikes ‘plead and prove’ requirement is unlawful, as is requiring deputy district attorneys to seek dismissal of pending sentencing enhancements without a lawful basis,” read Chalfant’s ruling. “An injunction against a public official’s unlawful actions cannot, by definition, interfere with the lawful exercise of the official’s duties.”
The lawsuit argues that it was illegal for Gascón to issue what they deemed as a blanket rule that prohibits prosecutors from seeking sentencing enhancements under the “Three Strikes” law.
Gascón can appeal the court’s decision and his legal team will be filing a notice of appeal, he said in a prepared statement.
“Until the appeal is dedicated, my office will adjust its policies to be consistent with this ruling,” he said, adding that his 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 the preliminary injunction was granted, “in large part,” it will not prohibit Gascón from preventing deputy district attorneys from charging most sentencing enhancements in new cases.
“He has almost unfettered discretion to perform his prosecutorial duties and the public expects him to evaluate the benefits and costs of administering justice in prosecuting crimes,” said the judge. “He was elected on the very platform he is trying to implement and any intrusion on this prosecutorial discretion is not in the public interest unless clearly warranted.”
Monday’s ruling was welcomed by the union and some county prosecutors, including Deputy District Attorney Jon Hatami, a Santa Clarita resident and deputy district attorney for the Family Violence Division, Complex Child Abuse Section.
“Today’s decision is more than a humiliating rebuke of Gascón. It is a reminder that no one is above the law and the law in Los Angeles is not determined by one man, no matter how much of an opportunist, but by the people of the state of California,” Hatami said in a prepared statement. “It is a victory for the community, victims, survivors, and their families and a reminder to all DDA’s that we are required to follow the law, not the demands of the DA or any elected or unelected official. We swore an oath, we must hold to it. Always do the right thing. Always fight for justice for the most vulnerable in our society. Today is a good day, L.A., justice was done.”
Former Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, who served from 2000 to 2012 before he was succeeded by Jackie Lacey, said the decision is “not a complete victory.”
“It’s a partial win but there’s much work to be done. It’s not a knock-out punch,” he said via a prepared statement. “This does not address Gascón’s decision to not file certain misdemeanors that relate to quality of life issues.”
The union, which had argued that Gascón’s criminal justice reforms ran afoul of state laws, said Monday the court ruling was as it had expected.
“This ruling protects the communities which are disproportionately affected by higher crime rates and those who are victimized,” read a statement from the union.
The decision comes after a hearing last week in which the Association of Deputy District Attorneys argued that a preliminary injunction was appropriate to help prevent deputy district attorneys from “violating the law.” A lawyer for Gascón, Robert Dugdale, argued, in part, that the union had not proven that they had the legal right to bring forth the lawsuit.
The court ruled that the union does have standing to challenge employee working conditions, in which this case meant the working conditions for its members resulting from the administration’s policies.