Two L.A. County deputy district attorneys filed a lawsuit against their employer this week, alleging they were demoted after refusing to adhere to District Attorney George Gascón’s special directives.
The suit, which was filed in L.A. County Superior Court and against L.A. County, alleges that veteran prosecutors Maria Ramirez and Victor Rodriguez held senior positions, overseeing hundreds of employees in the District Attorney’s Office, when ethical conflicts began to arise between them and the recently elected top prosecutor who assumed his seat in December 2020.
Both Ramirez and Rodriguez each allege in the suit to have had disagreements with their new boss, saying in the lawsuit that it was their belief early on that various legal policies Gascón implemented were unlawful.
In less than a year after Gascón’s election, Ramirez was demoted from her position as director of the Bureau of Specialized Prosecutions to head deputy of target crimes, and Rodriguez, who was the director of the Bureau of Branch and Area Region II and part of Bureau of Branch and Area Region I, was demoted and transferred to Alhambra as a head deputy, the lawsuit reads.
Officials at the D.A.’s Office declined to comment when reached by The Signal on Thursday, citing that they do not comment on pending litigation. Officials from Gascón’s anti-recall campaign referred comment back to the D.A.’s Office.
The 11-page suit filed at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse on Monday alleges that over the course of Gascón’s first year in office, the two former department heads were at odds with a series of sweeping directives their boss made when coming into office, including but not limited to: the elimination of sentencing enhancements, the relaxation on penalties for a number of nonviolent crimes and an order to his deputy district attorneys to not pursue the death penalty.
The lawsuit states that Ramirez, whose department oversaw everything from major crimes to sex crimes to the juvenile division, was hampered by the directives, especially highlighting Special Directive 20-09 that prevented her from charging juveniles for more than one crime even if they committed multiple crimes against multiple victims in one incident.
“The directive mandated that (Ramirez) must use alternative theories of prosecution that minimized a juvenile’s criminal conduct, no matter how violent, which did not accurately reflect the true offense,” the lawsuit reads. “In essence, (Ramirez) was directed not to file ‘strike’ offenses against juveniles, and this directive creates a false and misleading description to the court of the crime(s) that was/were actually committed.”
According to the suit, Ramirez disclosed to Gascón and his advisors that the policy changes as it pertained to youth justice were unlawful and would result in prosecutors violating their ethical obligations.
After repeatedly bringing up her stance to Gascón and his inner circle, Ramirez was ultimately demoted from her position on Sept. 7, 2021 — the same day as her colleague Rodriguez.
Similar to Ramirez, Rodriguez had attained his senior position in the D.A.’s Office after more than three decades of working as a prosecutor in L.A. County.
But, according to the lawsuit, on or about March 3, 2021, Gascón invited Rodriguez to attend a Zoom meeting — along with a handful of Gascón’s own advisors — to discuss whether they should prosecute two law enforcement officers involved in a shooting that caused the death of two people.
Rodriguez alleges in the lawsuit that, following a presentation detailing the officers’ and witnesses’ statements, Anna Kozma, the confidential assistant to the district attorney and a first-year law student, stated: “I am ready to convict the officers.”
“(Special Advisor Alisa Blair) stated the officers should be prosecuted ‘because too many African Americans have been killed by police officers,’” the suit reads. “(Special Advisor Tiffany Blackwell) opined that the officers should at least be charged with ’voluntary manslaughter.’”
Rodriguez alleges that he was “appalled” by the discussion and told the group that there were “no specific facts to support” filing charges.
“At some time after the meeting described above, George Gascón complained to the then-chief of staff that management ‘followed the law too much,’” the suit reads. “A fitting comment by a district attorney who has never practiced law, and an explanation as to why plaintiff Rodriguez and others were demoted.”
Then, in June 2021, Rodriguez alleges that Chief Deputy Joseph Iniguez requested a meeting to inform him that Gascón was upset with one of Rodriguez’s prosecutors. According to the suit, Assistant Head Deputy Karen Thorp had provided a statement of opposition to one of Gascón’s policies involving resentencing.
Rodriguez, the suit reads, defended his assistant head deputy, arguing to Iniguez that the directive was unlawful and therefore the prosecutor was right to not follow the policy.
Within three months, both Ramirez and Rodriguez would be stripped of their senior positions, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges that the administrative choice to remove both former directors from their posts was for whistleblower retaliation and in violation of California state labor law. The suit seeks damages for professional, mental and physical distress, but does not specify an exact dollar figure the plaintiffs are seeking.
A future hearing date, as of the publication of this story, has not yet been determined, according to L.A. County Superior Court records.