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Endorsement: Reelect George Gascón as Los Angeles County district attorney

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón at his office in 2022.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)
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George Gascón was elected Los Angeles County district attorney in 2020, a convulsive year in which Americans’ lives were upended by the pandemic and public confidence in the criminal justice system was shaken by the murder of George Floyd. The latter led to a reckoning over racial inequity in arrests, prosecutions and punishment. Voters wanted Gascón to set a corrective course in the nation’s largest local jurisdiction while keeping people safe.

He is doing what he promised, and doing it well, despite intense and dishonest backlash from opponents inside his office and among right-wing politicians and pundits across the nation. L.A. County voters would be wise to reject the nonsense and keep Gascón on the job and criminal justice reform in place.

While the presidential contest will garner the most attention in 2024, there are many important races and measures on state and local ballots.

Feb. 7, 2024

Falsehoods about his policies, and about the apocalyptic landscape that Los Angeles has supposedly become because of them, are widespread — so much so that voters who supported him 3? ago may have forgotten why.

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So let’s remember who he is, and why he was the right choice then and now.

Just as it was wrong for judicial powers to be reallocated to prosecutors in the “tough on crime” era, it is wrong for judges to usurp powers properly in the prosecutor’s ambit – what crimes to charge, and what punishments to seek.

May 13, 2021

Gascón is a former police officer who rose through the ranks to become LAPD assistant chief under William Bratton. He then became the chief of police in Mesa, Ariz., a conservative city adjacent to Phoenix and Arizona’s third most populous municipality. From there he became chief of San Francisco’s Police Department, and then San Francisco’s district attorney.

This background gives him firsthand knowledge of the criminal justice system from the ground level. Gascón knows what cops face on the street, how they think, how they can sometimes go wrong, and how police and prosecutors together serve and occasionally distort justice. He is the only Los Angeles County district attorney in the last century, and perhaps ever, to step into the job after learning the ropes in a parallel post in another county. Other prosecutors may know the courtroom; Gascón knows the system.

The recall movement against Dist. Atty. George Gascón is a misguided attempt to assign blame for the last two years of political turmoil, disruption, anxiety and violence.

Aug. 3, 2022

L.A. voters picked him because he correctly saw the self-defeating nature of a system that does not know when to stop punishing. Studying the data, Gascón realized that punishment must be properly “dosed,” like medicine. Too much for too long, the numbers show, and the imprisoned offender is broken instead of corrected, loses the ability to responsibly reenter society and becomes more likely to reoffend. That phenomenon has endangered all of us for far too long — and it has perpetuated multigenerational racial inequities by disproportionately locking up Black and Latino Angelenos and leaving too many families without two parents present.

Gascón’s policies seek the most fitting rather than the longest possible sentences. This smart approach was such a departure from older, failed strategies that the MAGA right promptly distorted it into the false narrative that Gascón refuses to prosecute misdemeanors at all, and generally avoids prosecuting felonies.

Two attempts by criminal justice reform opponents to recall Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón have failed. Don’t let there be a third. Voters should consider his record after he completes a four-year term.

Aug. 15, 2022

This fairy tale is so entrenched that several of his challengers repeated it on the campaign trail — and one of them, former Assistant U.S. Atty. Nathan Hochman, told it to the Times editorial board. When asked to show evidence, he couldn’t — because there is no such policy. This is particularly troubling because the ex-Republican has attracted support from GOP donors across the country.

Besides, jurisdiction over prosecution of misdemeanors in more than half the county — including the cities of L.A., Pasadena and Santa Monica — lies with city attorneys, not Gascón’s office.

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As for felonies, the number of cases filed during his tenure is on par with that of earlier administrations. The argument that Gascón is lax or lenient on crime simply does not hold up to the facts. The various crime surges in the last few years — wrongly attributed to Gascón — occurred nationwide and have largely abated. Prosecutorial policies have no short-term effect on crime.

George Gascón is the right candidate at the right time to lead the largest local criminal justice jurisdiction in the United States.

Sept. 29, 2020

Seven of Gascón 11 challengers in the March primary are current or former L.A. deputy district attorneys who adamantly oppose the office’s direction and the voters’ 2020 decision. They promise to bring back archaic and unjust sentencing policies, and most want to roll back key provisions of the voter-approved Proposition 47, which among other things made drug possession a misdemeanor.

Eric Siddall was the vice president of the prosecutors’ labor union, which has led the charge against Gascón from the start. John McKinney and Jon Hatami were likewise vocal Gascón critics. Maria Ramirez said she tried to give her new boss a chance but soon gave up. Craig Mitchell, Debra Archuleta and David Milton are former deputy D.A.s who became judges. Also running are San Bernardino County deputy D.A. Lloyd “Bobcat” Masson and Dan Kapelovitz, a criminal defense attorney.

A lawsuit by line prosecutors against their boss, Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón, is an assault on voters.

Jan. 28, 2021

Jeff Chemerinsky, a former federal prosecutor, has won the backing of some L.A. liberals and local Democratic clubs that have been swayed by the accounts that Gascón’s policies have stoked crime or that his office is in chaos. They may be comforted by his name — his father, Erwin Chemerinsky, is the renowned dean of UC Berkeley law school and a constitutional scholar who strongly supports defendant rights.

But Jeff Chemerinsky would be as much an outsider in the D.A.’s office as Gascón, and would be just as unpopular with reform critics unless he backed away from necessary changes. Nor does he have Gascón’s police perspective and experience.

Gascón is the right D.A. in the right place at the right time. Voters were right to pick him in 2020. They ought to keep him in place for another term.

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