A recent judgment against District Attorney George Gascón could spell trouble for L.A. County coffers, with just the settlement costs for the complaints filed by his own prosecutors surpassing $2.5 million, and a growing list of similar concerns working their way through the system.
All of the attorneys are claiming they have been retaliated against for speaking out about their concerns over Gascón’s special directives, a series of sweeping policy changes he announced the day he took office in 2020.
The moves have been assailed as both illegal and unethical by attorneys in the DA’s office, including the prosecutors’ union, the Assocation of Deputy District Attorneys, with the lawsuits also claiming the policies force prosecutors to present false narratives in court.
An inability to charge strikes in nearly all scenarios, the inability to accurately charge juveniles with the crimes they’ve committed and an inability to seek sentencing enhancements in violent crimes are just a few of the concerns cited in the complaints, which prosecutors say have left them “handcuffed.”
When asked about the mounting costs of the suits Friday, county Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who represents the 5th District, which includes the Santa Clarita Valley, stated she was concerned over the usage of the funds being used to fight the lawsuits.
The money to pay for the costs associated with the claims comes directly from the DA’s operating budget, according to a spokesperson from Barger’s office.
“It’s unfortunate that taxpayer dollars are being used this way,” Barger wrote in a statement shared via text Friday. “These funds could’ve been used, alternatively, to support victim services or other initiatives that help victims and their families recover from the crime and trauma they’ve undergone.”
Several attorneys in the DA’s office have confirmed that there are almost certainly more lawsuits from its rank and file on the way.
A representative from the ADDA also said Thursday the case filed by Shawn Randolph — the former head of Gascón’s Juvenile Division who was awarded $1.5 million by a jury last week — “is not as egregious as the other ones.”
“I think what jurors found was that the DA was engaged in retaliatory conduct,” said Eric Siddall, vice president of the ADDA. “And this is consistent with his attitude of not listening to subject-matter experts, but relying upon his ideological creed. And really… it’s unfortunate because it’s turning the DA’s office from a prosecutorial agency into a political machine. And jurors were clearly deeply upset by that and awarded Shawn Randolph $1.5 million.”
A statement from Gascón’s office Friday said officials were considering their options over the next several days and standing by the personnel moves, which he deemed “absolutely critical.”
“We are disappointed by the jury’s verdict and stand by our decision to reassign this and other attorneys to new positions within the office,” according to a statement from his office. “As any manager will tell you, moving around personnel in order to improve the level of representation this community receives is absolutely critical to a functioning office.”
One other complaint against Gascón has already been resolved, as the former head of the DA’s Compton office, Richard Doyle, was given $1.1 million — $300,00 in severance pay and an $800,000 payment, according to a Siddall piece in Metropolitan News — after Doyle claimed he was removed from his position for questioning an order to dismiss charges against three protesters accused of trying to derail a train.
Here’s a look at more than a dozen other prosecutors who have filed complaints against Gascón’s office and their pending court dates:
One of the more recent complaints was filed by Feb. 15 by John Lewin, a co-founder of the DA’s Cold Case Unit, who filed a whistleblower lawsuit.
Lewin has prosecuted a number of high-profile cases, most recently the Robert Durst murder, according to his complaint, which claims the prosecutor was retaliated against for his “refusal to violate the law by adhering to Gascón’s directives.”
One of the policies specifically mentioned by Lewin’s suit mandated DDAs move to dismiss strike priors in a pending case, which Lewin repeatedly claimed “was unlawful and unethical.”
Isidoro Baly filed a lawsuit in September alleging he was retaliated against after he reported he was told to withhold information from a judge during sentencing rehearings, according to the suit.
The day of his report, Baly was involuntarily transferred to Parole Revocation, which, his suit contends, is a much less desirable position.
Baly’s case is on the court calendar for an April 21 conference with both parties.
Vicki Adams, Gascón’s former chief of staff, filed her complaint in November.
Adams was named chief by Gascón in January 2021, but alleged in her complaint that she was eventually relegated to obscurity after questioning the legality of Special Directive 20-09, which “effectively abolished the ability of prosecutors to file certain crimes against juveniles if the crime also qualified as a strike.”
Gascón’s office previously has declined to comment on any of the pending complaints against him. Adams’ case also has a hearing date scheduled for next month.
Jodi Link and Michael Matoba
Jodi Link was previously in charge of the Victim Impact Unit at the Compton office, and a renowned subject expert in sex crimes, according to her lawsuit, before she was transferred to the Torrance branch as a “calendar deputy.”
Link’s suit alleges she was retaliated against because Gascón’s leadership team blamed her for the negative media attention resulting from the handling of the Scott Breckenridge case.
In 1992, Breckenridge was sentenced to 73 years in prison for a pair of violent sexual assaults, and he appealed his sentence weeks after Gascón’s election.
Link supervised prosecutor Michael Matoba — a DDA who also filed a complaint against Gascón citing an unrelated case — and directed Matoba not to challenge Breckenridge’s appeal, in abidance with Gascón’s policies, stating: “The District Attorney believes that regardless of the number of charges committed or the number of victims that were harmed that a person should not serve a sentence that is greater than 15 years. Based on this Special Directive, this prosecutor has been instructed to not oppose defendant’s motion to be resentenced.”
After the news of the motion garnered a widespread backlash against the DA’s office, “On information and belief, Gascón and his management team believed that Link and Matoba were intentionally calling unnecessary attention to the Special Directive,” according to Link’s suit.
Matoba’s suit, which was filed June 1, alleges he was transferred from a highly sought-after position in the Sex Crimes Unit to Elder Abuse for “contradicting (Chief of Staff Joseph) Iniguez’s false narrative to the court.”
According to his lawsuit, Matoba refuted a claim by Gascón’s chief of staff, who told a judge Gascón’s office was working on a plea deal in a murder trial, during a hearing to discuss a transfer of the case to Orange County, where more serious charges would have been levied.
Maria Ramirez and Victor Rodriguez
Prosecutors Maria Ramirez and Victor Rodriguez are both listed on a complaint March 7, 2022, alleging they were retaliated against.
Ramirez was the director of the Bureau of Specialized Prosecutions before her demotion to head deputy, and Rodriguez was similarly a director before he was demoted to head deputy. The complaint from Ramirez, who claims more than 30 years of experience in the DA’s office, lays out her specific concern with Gascón’s directive regarding juvenile prosecution.
“The directive mandated that plaintiff 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,” according to the suit. “In essence, plaintiff 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.
“For instance,” the suit continued, “if a 16- or 17-year-old juvenile robbed a victim by putting a gun to the victim’s head, plaintiff could not prosecute the juvenile for robbery because robbery is a strike offense.”
Ramirez alleges he was transferred to Alhambra in retaliation because he didn’t punish Karen Thorp “for violating Gascón’s unlawful directive,” after she provided a statement of opposition to the resentencing of a violent inmate.
Peter Cagney, Richard Hicks, Mindy Paige and Karen Thorp
Peter Cagney, Richard Hicks, Mindy Paige and Thorp are all listed on the same complaint against Gascón.
Cagney was moved from the head of the Pomona office to Auto Insurance Fraud. Hicks was moved from assistant head deputy to the same unit as Cagney.
Paige was a subject matter expert in resentencing protocols until she was reassigned to a misdemeanor “calendar deputy,” and Thorp was the assistant head of the Pomona branch until she was reassigned to Long Beach as a filing deputy.
“Each plaintiff was removed from their position as a result of disclosing and/or refusing to engage in illegal activities as directed by their supervisors, including, but not limited to, George Gascón, Joseph Iniguez and/or Diana Teran,” according to their complaint.
That case is set for an April 21 status conference hearing.
Jon Hatami, a Valencia resident and prosecutor who recently garnered murder convictions in the high-profile case against the mother and boyfriend of 10-year-old Anthony Avalos, was the first to file a complaint against Gascón, which he did in September 2021.
An outspoken critic of Gascón’s special directives, Hatami’s suit alleges that after he “disclosed that Gascón’s three strikes policy was illegal and refused to follow the directive, Gascón and Max Szabo continued their retaliatory conduct against plaintiff.”
Both Hatami and Siddall also said Gascón’s directives have decimated morale, created a climate where employees are fearful of retaliation and contributed to a major staffing shortage as prosecutors have left the office as a result of his policies.
“The DA’s office is short over 200 prosecutors, the morale is at an all-time low, a judge ruled that George Gascón’s policies were unethical and illegal,” Hatami said, “and now we have at least 17 lawsuits due to George Gascón creating a hostile work environment, which will end up costing the county taxpayers millions of dollars.”
A lawsuit over the validity of the signatures in a recall effort against Gascón is due back in court March 31.