Jackie Lacey vs. George Gascón: What to know about L.A County district attorney’s race

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey is facing George Gascón in the November election.
Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey is facing George Gascon in the November election.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times; Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Share via

The battle to lead the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office is one of the most closely watched local races in the nation, seen by many as a referendum on criminal justice reform after a summer of protests against police brutality.

Former San Francisco Dist. Atty. George Gascón has mounted a well-funded challenge to veteran L.A. County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey from the left, claiming she has failed to hold police accountable and overseen a regressive, “tough-on-crime” office that’s focused simply on punishing crime rather than reducing it.

Lacey has countered that she has balanced the need for leniency and pretrial diversion against public safety during her eight years in office, something she contends Gascón‘s lack of prosecutorial experience would prevent him from pulling off.


The November contest between Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey and former San Francisco Dist. Atty. George Gascón to oversee the nation’s largest prosecutor’s office has been framed as a test of appetites for criminal justice reform.

Nov. 11, 2020

Here is the race at a glance:

Jackie Lacey

Lacey, 63, became a deputy district attorney in 1986 and rose to be former Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley’s second in command before she was elected to replace him in 2012. She ran unopposed for a second term in 2016. She is the first woman and first African American to be elected district attorney of L.A. County.

Under her leadership, the office has won a number of high-profile cases, convicting the “Grim Sleeper” serial killer and securing a plea deal that sent Marion “Suge” Knight to prison for 28 years on manslaughter charges. Earlier this year, she brought sexual assault charges against fallen Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, who was convicted on similar charges in New York City. In recent months, she’s also filed a slew of rape charges against adult film actor Ron Jeremy.

Community activists have criticized her for declining to bring charges against police officers in a number of high-profile use-of-force cases. Others say some of her often touted reform programs — including alternative sentencing courts and a conviction review unit — are more for show and don’t help nearly enough defendants.

George Gascón

A career cop, Gascón, 65, rose through the ranks of the Los Angeles Police Department, becoming an assistant chief. He went on to serve as police chief in Mesa, Ariz., and San Francisco before he was appointed district attorney there in 2011. He served two terms before stepping down to challenge Lacey last year.

One of the stars of a nationwide push to elect progressive prosecutors, Gascón was a co-author of Proposition 47, the controversial initiative that reduced a number of crimes classified as felonies to misdemeanors. He was also among the first prosecutors in the nation to successfully expunge a wide array of marijuana convictions after Californians voted to legalize the recreational use of cannabis and helped set the table for San Francisco’s shift away from the use of cash bail.

Law enforcement groups and others said his policies deterred police from making arrests for low-level crimes in San Francisco, where the property crime rate surged 37% under his tenure.



Donors have poured more than $14 million into the race, a figure political consultants say is high for a law enforcement election. Gascón has taken in $7.3 million, while Lacey has collected about $6.8 million.

Much of the money backing Gascón has come in the form of six- and seven-figure checks from wealthy progressive mega-donors who favor criminal justice reform and have backed efforts like Proposition 47 and measures to abolish the death penalty in California. Most of them are concentrated in the Bay Area, though Gascón has also taken in $1.5 million from liberal philanthropist George Soros.

Lacey’s campaign is boosted primarily by law enforcement unions, with the Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs leading the way, augmented by contributions from a political action committee established by the union representing rank-and-file LAPD officers and other police groups around the state.

State of the Race

Lacey was the top vote getter in a three-person primary, claiming 48% of the vote to Gascon’s 28%. But after a summer of protests against police shootings led many powerful politicians — including U.S. Rep Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti — to drop their endorsements of Lacey and instead back Gascón, some see her as vulnerable. Gascón also has the support of the L.A. County Democratic Party.

Reading list

San Franciscans question George Gascón’s legacy as ‘godfather of progressive prosecutors’

In D.A.’s race framed by reform, George Gascón’s police career is under a microscope

Jackie Lacey grew up in South L.A. But in a tough D.A.’s race, her opponents are encroaching on her home turf


How Jackie Lacey’s and George Gascón’s time in office shapes the L.A. County D.A.’s race

Jackie Lacey is a longtime champion for mentally ill defendants. But do her reforms go far enough?

L.A. County D.A. Jackie Lacey’s husband charged with assault in gun-waving incident