Victims rights advocates launch recall effort against newly elected L.A. Dist. Atty. George Gascón
Victims rights advocates on Saturday kicked off their recall campaign against newly elected Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón, who has vowed sweeping criminal justice reforms to the nation’s largest prosecutor’s office.
The recall campaign group held a “victims vigil” outside the Hall of Justice downtown and planned to gather the minimum of 20 signatures required to file a notice of intent to formally begin the recall process next month. About 100 people attended the event, organizers said.
The day he took office, Gascón announced an array of sweeping changes that included ending the use of sentencing enhancements, severely restricting when prosecutors can seek to hold defendants in lieu of bail, ending use of the death penalty in L.A. County and stopping the practice of trying juveniles as adults.
He vowed to make many of those reforms during a contentious election campaign against incumbent Jackie Lacey — one in which law enforcement and prosecutors’ unions across California spent millions in a failed bid to defeat him.
The seismic policy shifts have drawn Gascón praise from other progressive prosecutors and criminal justice reformers nationwide, but left him at odds with his own staff and many of the local law enforcement officials he must work with to try cases.
Representatives for the Recall George Gascón campaign include victims’ rights advocates, former law enforcement officials and current and former prosecutors, including former L.A. County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley. Former L.A. Councilman Dennis Zine is listed as the chairman and former county Supervisor Michael Antonovich is an honorary chairman.
The group’s website claims he “promised a softer and gentler criminal justice system that would reduce incarceration rates for minor offenders and place increased focus on mental health and addiction issues,” but that his policies are making county residents less safe.
“The moment he was sworn in as district attorney, George Gascón instituted a series of directives to the prosecutors in his command that have nothing to do with a progressive approach to prosecution and have everything to do with a radical agenda that ignores victims, disregards the law and endangers the lives and livelihoods of all Angelenos,” according to the recall campaign.
Trenton Lovell is awaiting trial on charges that he gunned down L.A. County Sheriff’s Sgt. Steve Owen in an execution-style killing in Lancaster in 2016.
Tania Owen said the prosecutor handling her husband’s murder case called her the day Gascón was sworn in and said the office would no longer be seeking the death penalty, life without parole or any sentencing enhancements.
“Quite honestly it was a gut punch,” said Tania Owen, who is listed as an honorary chairwoman for the recall campaign. “As soon as I heard that, I said absolutely not. This will not happen on my watch.”
In a statement, Gascón said research shows that excessive sentencing practices have worsened recidivism, leading to more victims of crime.
“The pain and trauma of losing a loved one is immeasurable and I recognize and respect that some victims want me to impose the maximum punishment in their case,” he said. “Our system of justice can’t continue to rely on policies that create more victims tomorrow simply because some victims want the maximum punishment imposed in their case today.
“I also can’t ignore research showing these views are not shared by a majority of survivors of violent crime. Nonetheless, all survivors agree that they need more support, and that’s why I’m focused on expanding our ability to provide clinical and trauma-informed care for victims,” Gascón said.
An elected county official must be in office for 90 days before a recall petition can be filed, according to the L.A. County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk office. Gascón took office Dec. 7, so the recall process can’t start until early March.
After the wording of the recall petition has been approved, proponents will have 160 days to collect the necessary signatures, which is equal 10% of the county’s more than 5.8 million registered voters or upwards of 580,000 signatures, according to the county clerk’s office. A private Facebook group for the recall effort has nearly 40,000 members.
Even if they are able to collect enough signatures, a recall vote likely would not appear on the ballot until 2022, according to the group’s website.
This month an L.A. County judge dealt a blow to Gascón’s plan to end the use of sentencing enhancements in thousands of criminal cases, ruling that it violates California law.
The order stemmed from a lawsuit filed late last year by the union that represents hundreds of L.A. County prosecutors, alleging some of Gascón’s plans exceeded his legal authority and put line prosecutors in an ethical bind. Sentencing enhancements can add several years to a defendant’s time in prison if certain criteria are met, such as using a gun causing severe injury during the commission of a crime, or being a documented gang member.
The lawsuit took particular issue with Gascón’s policy of barring the use of sentencing enhancements for prior felony convictions, arguing that under California’s “three strikes” law, prosecutors do not have discretion “to refuse to seek the enhancement.”
Gascón said he will appeal the ruling.
Times staff writer James Queally contributed to this report.
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