A day after formally filing his civil lawsuit against Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón, Deputy District Attorney Jon Hatami, a Santa Clarita resident, argued Wednesday from the steps of the Hall of Justice in downtown L.A. that his boss had left him few options after months of public and professional slights.
In Hatami’s complaint for damages, five causes of action are listed, including retaliation, defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and racial discrimination.
A veteran prosecutor for the District Attorney’s Office who served for six years as a senior trial attorney in Antelope Valley before moving to his current position in the county’s Complex Child Abuse Unit, Hatami alleges in the complaint that the attacks began soon after he became an early critic of Gascón ’s justice reform proposals while the then-candidate was still on the campaign trial in the lead-up to the November 2020 general election.
The directives Gascón proposed to constituents — many of which he ultimately implemented after defeating incumbent D.A. Jackie Lacey in the general election and assuming the county’s top lawyer position the following month — included initiatives such as abolishing the death penalty, phasing out the traditional cash bail system for low-level offenders, reducing the severity of sentences for a number of accused criminals, as well as a handful of others.
Hatami, in his lawsuit, said that due to his experience and career in prosecuting a number of high-profile, violent cases, he believed a number of the new directives handed down to prosecutors from Gascón — particularly the elimination of “strikes” and “enhancements” from sentencing recommendations that result in additional years or punishments to a sentence should there be extenuating circumstances and/or prior convictions in a case — were illegal.
“The Three Strikes Law significantly increases the prison sentences of persons convicted of felonies who have previously been convicted of a violent or serious felony and limits the ability of these offenders to receive punishments other than a prison sentence. The directive also mandated that plaintiff could not file any enhancements for egregious violent conduct,” the complaint reads. It later adds: “As such, plaintiff continued his campaign to preserve the integrity of his position as DDA and the laws of California by openly opposing Gascón ’s directives as violating the law.”
The lawsuit goes on to allege that in a handful of interviews, Gascón, as well as people who identified themselves to the media as D.A.’s Office employees, has made a number of derogatory remarks toward the prosecutors under his employ — particularly toward the Santa Clarita-based DDA.
As previously covered by The Signal, Hatami alleges that he took offense to Gascón reportedly calling the dissenters in his office “internal terrorists” during a podcast interview in October 2020. Hatami is part Iranian and his father is Muslim. Gascón has also made public comments, the lawsuit alleges, that undermine the integrity of Hatami’s professional conduct during previous high-profile cases.
The complaint also alleges that Max Szerbo, an employee of the D.A.’s office, said on Fox 11 News that Hatami’s criticism of the special directives “raise questions as to one’s fitness to practice law.” Szerbo is alleged to have also called Hatami “a liar” at a Whittier City Council meeting on April 27, and complex child abuse and murder cases Hatami perceived as normally within his jurisdiction were withheld from him by Gascón out of continued retaliation, the lawsuit alleges.
Hatami alleges that there has been no apology or retraction of the derogatory statements, and the “hostile work environment” continued as Hatami remained an outspoken critic of Gascón.
“In August 2021, Gascón promoted 15 deputy District Attorneys III to Deputy District Attorneys IV,” the lawsuit reads. “Plaintiff was due this promotion but denied it. Individuals with less experience were promoted over plaintiff. This is despite plaintiff’s perfect work records, highly positive performance evaluations, and numerous high-profile cases and trials.”
The civil lawsuit alleges that over the last nine months, Hatami has attempted to solve the issues with his boss via the proper administrative avenues in the county, but has been unsuccessful. In addition to Gascón and Szabo, the county of Los Angeles is also listed as a defendant in the lawsuit.
The prayer for relief listed in the complaint requests restitution for physical, emotional, personal and professional damages, as well as “loss of wages,” incidental damages and Hatami’s attorney fees.
Officials from Gascón’s anti-recall campaign declined to comment for this story.