Why two Los Angeles County prosecutors are suing DA Gascón

Senior Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys Maria Ramirez and Victor Rodriguez on Wednesday announced a lawsuit against District Attorney George Gascón, alleging they were reassigned because they complained about certain policies.

According to the lawsuit, "Both plaintiffs were subjected to retaliation in the form of removal from their positions as bureau directors and demoted to the positions of head deputy because they disclosed and/or refused to take actions that they reasonably believed were violations of law."

Both Ramirez and Rodriguez have been employed by the District Attorney’s Office for more than 30 years, were in positions of "high authority" with regular access to Gascón, and aspired for promotions to assistant district attorney, the suit alleges.

"Plaintiff was forced to randomly select only one victim and charge one crime pertaining to that chosen victim," the lawsuit says. "Plaintiff raised concerns that at trial, if the randomly chosen victim was not available and the case not therefore provable, the case could be dismissed, and the juvenile would have no accountability. All these filings would constitute fraud on the court and, among other things, violate plaintiff’s ethical and prosecutorial obligations under the law."

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Ramirez also complained Gascón’s juvenile justice directive is illegal because it violates California’s Marsy’s Law, otherwise known as the Victims’ Bill of Rights, by refusing to permit input from victims’ families into the decision not to try juvenile defendants as adults, according to the suit.

"Plaintiff Ramirez personally brought to the attention of George Gascón and others in his administration an unethical and unlawful disposition of a case through a backroom deal that shortened the life sentence of a murderer to a seven-year prison term," the complaint says.

Lawsuits complaining of Gascón's policies were also filed last year by Shawn Randolph, former head deputy for the Juvenile Division, and Lesley Klein Sonnenberg, former assistant head deputy of the Family Violence Division.

"Ms. Kozma, who is not an attorney, voiced that ‘I am ready to convict the officers,'" the suit claims. "Ms. Blair stated the officers should be prosecuted ‘because too many African-Americans have been killed by police officers.’ Ms. Blacknell opined that the officers should at least be charged with ‘voluntary manslaughter.’"

A new effort to oust Gascón from office began in December, just months after a similar recall campaign fell short. Recall organizers must collect 566,857 signatures from registered voters in Los Angeles County by July 6 to force a recall vote.

The city councils of more than 30 cities in the county have issued "no confidence" votes involving Gascón.

Last September, organizers of the prior recall attempt said the effort was hampered by COVID-19 pandemic health mandates, along with a "premature start" and vowed to re-launch their bid to recall the county's top prosecutor, who was sworn into office in December 2020.

Despite the failure of the original effort, organizers said they remained committed to recalling Gascón, who has come under fire from critics for a progressive agenda that has included directives against seeking the death penalty and dropping sentence-enhancing allegations in some criminal cases.

Gascón has repeatedly defended his policies, saying his stances were well-known during his campaign and his election signified public support of his agenda.

The Association of Deputy District Attorneys filed a lawsuit in December 2020 challenging Gascón's directives to eliminate three-strikes allegations and some sentencing enhancements, alleging the moves are "unlawful."

A judge ruled mostly in favor of the association last February, but subsequently put the case on hold while Gascón appeals. A trial date is scheduled to be set for the case in April.

Two weeks ago, Gascón issued a memo walking back some of his most- debated policies -- bans on special-circumstance allegations that could result in life-without-parole prison terms and on transferring juvenile-defendant cases to adult court.

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