A formerly high-ranking member of the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office is suing L.A. County, claiming she was “banished onto an island where she has no meaningful work to perform” in retaliation for pointing out ethical and legal concerns she raised to the DA regarding his policy directives.
The lawsuit filed Tuesday by Victoria “Vicki” Adams, assistant district attorney of special projects, labels the office an environment of chaos and a “dysfunctional organization with no rules and no interest in public safety.”
Adams is one of a number of prosecutors who have filed lawsuits against the county and the DA’s office, which allege a pattern of retaliation by District Attorney George Gascón against those who’ve spoken out against his policies.
A spokesman with the DA’s Office said the office “cannot comment on pending litigation involving personnel matters” in a statement issued via email Thursday evening. The spokesman had not yet responded to a separate request for comment on Adams’ claims regarding the legality of Gascón’s policies as of the publication of this story.
However, the county has responded in court to similar allegations by other county prosecutors who’ve claimed Gascón’s special directives were illegal and/or created ethical concerns for county prosecutors.
A number of filings on behalf of his office have challenged the grounds for the suits and the nature of their claims and the status of their employment, and contending that Gascón’s actions were warranted and not retaliatory in nature.
Adams is the highest-ranking member of the office to sue Gascón to date, according to Eric Siddall, vice president of the Association for Deputy District Attorneys, who acknowledged being familiar with complaints filed by at least a half-dozen other prosecutors.
Most recent lawsuit
Adams’ complaint states Gascón initially named her chief of staff in January 2021. However, according to her lawsuit, numerous concerns she raised resulted in her precipitous fall from supervising hundreds of attorneys to her current role where she supervises one secretary, conducts “busy work” and notes that all but one of her “special projects” are either “inactive, theoretical or obsolete.”
Adams’ attorney on the 14-page complaint, Gregory Smith, did not respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit as of the publication of this story.
Adams is one of at least nine experienced prosecutors who have filed lawsuits against their employer over Gascón’s policies, according to court records obtained by The Signal.
“When George Gascón ran for DA in 2020, he said … ‘The LA DA Office is a mess,’” according to Deputy District Attorney Jon Hatami, a Santa Clarita Valley resident and one of the longtime prosecutors who have sued the DA over his policies.
“IF it was a ‘mess’ then, look at it now. We are in crisis mode,” he added, referring to a shortage of nearly 200 prosecutors, the spate of lawsuits and a 15-year high in the county’s homicide rate.
Adams’ complaint alleges her concerns began shortly after the Dec. 7, 2020, swearing in of Gascón, the former San Francisco chief of police and district attorney, who defeated former DA Jackie Lacey by a margin of 53.5% to 46.5% in that November’s election.
Adams’ suit notes that prosecutors were given just a couple of hours to review a series of sweeping directives issued by Gascón that same day.
Problems were cited almost immediately.
The former chief of staff, who was also at the time the assistant district attorney in charge of three separate bureaus in the DA’s office, notes numerous complaints were made to Gascón and Joseph Iniguez, a former line deputy DA who was promptly promoted to the DA’s executive management team.
One of the first concerns in Adams’ lawsuit is the allegation that Special Directive 20-09 violates the state’s Three Strikes Law regarding repeat offenders, Marsy’s Law — a voter-approved amendment to the state’s constitution that addresses victims’ rights — and the state Bar’s Rule of Professional Conduct.
The directive, in seeking to provide “the lightest touch” and “care over cages” for juveniles in the criminal justice system, states: “Youth accused of misdemeanors will not be prosecuted. If deemed necessary and appropriate, youth accused of misdemeanor offenses and low-level felonies will be referred to pre-filing, community-based diversion programs.”
Adams claims this policy and others in the directive require prosecutors to create a false and misleading description to the court of crimes committed by juveniles.
Special Directive 20-14, which Gascón noted was part of his campaign pledge to end “excessive sentences,” calls on the office to “reevaluate and consider … resentencing people who have already served 15 years in prison.”
It also calls for prosecutors to stop filing sentence enhancements, which involve state laws that can add years to a prison sentence if a person is found, for example, to have used a firearm in a crime, or if they have a previous “strikeable” offense under the state’s Three Strikes Law.
Claims of retaliation
Adams’ claims — that her role in the DA’s office was diminished in response to her bringing forth policy complaints — are certainly not unique.
“Our membership has long thought that Gascón is collaborative with his collaborators, but vindictive toward those who challenge him,” Siddall wrote in a statement via text message Friday. “She has confirmed our greatest fears: that Gascón and his ‘management team’ don’t respect the rule of law, engage in petty score-settling and prefer chaos to competency. The adults are no longer in charge.”
A seven-page complaint filed in April by Peter Cagney, Richard Todd Hicks, Mindy Paige and Karen Thorp claims they were demoted after they either “opposed or disclosed to their supervisors that laws were being violated if they followed Gascón’s hastily conceived new resentencing guidelines, and that prison inmates that posed a serious and dangerous risk to society would be or were released from prison.”
Cagney was head deputy for the Pomona branch and Hicks was assistant head deputy assigned to post-conviction and discovery, until both found themselves in the Auto Insurance Fraud unit in September and December 2021, respectively.
A seven-page complaint filed June 1 by Michael Matoba, citing retaliation as the cause, centered around claims Matoba was transferred from the Sex Crime Unit, “a highly specialized unit (that) is a coveted position in the Office of the District Attorney” to the Elder Abuse Unit, which “requires travel all over the county, is not coveted and is highly unlikely to result in an advancement or promotion.”
Matoba said his transfer was the result of his handling of the prosecution of convicted child murderer Ken Rasmuson. The case had been a death penalty case under Lacey, and after Matoba filed a motion to remove enhancements under Gascón’s policies, the Orange County DA sought to pick up the case. Matoba stated in the lawsuit that at a subsequent transfer hearing for the case, he contradicted the LA DA’s claims regarding previous discussions about a plea deal, which resulted in his ultimate transfer.
A nine-page complaint filed last October on behalf of Shawn Randolph, a head deputy district attorney in charge of the Juvenile Division of the DA’s office, raises similar concerns to those of Adams regarding Gascón’s policies on the prosecution of juveniles. She claims that mentioning these concerns to a bureau director resulted in her denial of a promotion to lead an office and her transfer to the Parole Division, a “dead-end position for a head deputy.”
A lawsuit filed by Isodoro Baly claims he was “instructed to withhold information from the judge during resentencing hearings.”
That same day, Baly was contacted by a supervisor and told he was involuntarily transferred to Parole Revocation, a much less desirable position, according to his lawsuit.
The DA’s answers filed in court to the suits filed by Manitoba and Randolph, which have been consolidated and scheduled for a hearing Monday, claim the plaintiffs failed to state a cause of action, notes they are at-will employees and adds they are barred from recovery because the DA had legitimate reasons for the challenged actions, “reasons that lack a retaliatory animus.”
Baly’s case is scheduled for a hearing in January.
No hearing date has yet been assigned to Adams’ lawsuit as of Friday afternoon, per Los Angeles County Superior Court records available online.