By Eric Siddall
If you talk to prosecutors around the country, they will tell you two things about the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office (LADA): that it’s the nation’s largest and that it’s led the way on many issues related to the criminal justice system.
George Gascón won’t say that. In fact, he’s spent more than a year criticizing the office, its personnel, and its programs.
But a Public Records Act request recently revealed that as San Francisco’s District Attorney, Gascón and his staff routinely turned to LADA for answers and guidance on how to make the criminal justice system more equitable, how to make our communities safer, and (not surprisingly) how to try cases… including those involving law enforcement misconduct.
Case in point: conviction review.
In 2015, Jackie Lacey created the office’s first Conviction Review Unit (“CRU”). The ADDA praised that decision, noting, “We especially recognize the importance of this new program, because our sacred duties as prosecutors do not end when we convict the guilty. Our goal is to do justice. This requires review of new evidence that may exonerate those previously convicted. It requires us to make sure that proper procedures were observed during the trial process.”
As District Attorney, Lacey has made the CRU and its work a top priority. The unit’s deputies are some of the best and brightest in the office. They’ve screened two thousand cases and comprehensively reviewed 350 of them. Their work has led to a dozen dismissals and the complete exoneration of four wrongly convicted defendants. It has truly become one of LADA’s elite units.
Notably, the CRU has also served as a model for other prosecutorial agencies, including the one previously headed by George Gascón.
Through emails discovered pursuant to a Public Records Act request, we’ve learned that on February 1, 2018, the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office contacted LADA to ask for help to create a conviction review unit. On March 9, 2018, Gascon’s representatives came to Los Angeles for a presentation by Lacey’s deputies. Why? So they could learn how to create and operate a conviction review unit.
A few days after that meeting, Gascon’s team wrote to thank Lacey’s deputies: “On behalf of San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, thank you very much for your excellent presentations and hospitality. You gave us invaluable insights and quite an education in the nuts and bolts of conviction review. We are grateful for the considerable amount of time you and your staff spent with us and in preparing for our meeting.”
Yet despite all of that praise from Gascón the San Francisco DA, Gascón the Candidate is now trying to score political points by attacking the CRU. And he’s doing it while completely ignoring the fact that his version of the CRU screened just seven cases in three years, “reviewed” only five of them, and didn’t exonerate anyone.
This wasn’t the only time that Gascón asked LADA for help. As we documented in a prior article, Gascón (who has never handled a criminal case in court or tried one in front of a jury) asked LADA for guidance on how to prosecute police officers who have used unlawful and excessive force.
And, yes, he’s attacking LADA for perceived shortcomings on that front too… again, all in the service of his own personal political goals.
It’s no wonder that those who know him best – the activists who called for his resignation as San Francisco’s District Attorney, the dozens of San Francisco deputy DAs who quit their jobs rather than continuing to work for someone who had no clue about what they actually did every day, and the residents and small businesses owners who are living with and literally wading through the wreckage he left behind – have cautioned Angelenos to be very, very wary of George Gascón.
Eric Siddall is Vice President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles.