Heads in the (Silicon) Sand
Ignoring Frontline Employee Concerns Backfired for Elizabeth Holmes. How is it Working for America’s Most Notorious Progressive Prosecutor?
By Eric Siddall
Elizabeth Holmes convinced wealthy Silicon Valley investors, two former secretaries of state, one former bank CEO, and one former four-star general that she was revolutionizing the entire healthcare industry. She promised that with one drop of blood, her invention could run hundreds of tests. Because of her grandiose promises, she received hundreds of millions of dollars in investments from these celebrated individuals. Some would also serve on her board and repeatedly vouch for her. But there was one problem. She was a fraud.
Notably, it wasn’t any of the rich or powerful who blew the whistle on Holmes. It was frontline lab techs. They saw that the wunderkind’s product was an abysmal, fraudulent failure. When they raised the issue in an email directly to Holmes, she brushed it aside — and forwarded it to the COO. The COO responded to the techs’ valid concerns by belittling their grasp of math and science. Ironically, it was these lab techs who worked with a journalist to expose Holmes. It was these same lab techs who would be vindicated when Holmes was convicted of fraud in federal court.
Like Holmes, George Gascón cultivated support for his campaign for district attorney of Los Angeles with grandiose promises. He claimed that his innovative policies would drastically reduce prison populations, reduce government waste, improve the environment, reduce racial inequality, and make our communities safer. Like Holmes, Gascón’s vision of an industry-wide sea change drew support from celebrated individuals: wealthy Silicon Valley investors, renowned professors, and Hollywood celebrities. However, like the lab techs, frontline prosecutors have been raising serious concerns.
On his first day as district attorney, Gascón reduced the possible consequences for nearly every single criminal offense in the county of Los Angeles, from theft to murder. Shooting victims, rape victims and stalking victims saw their assailants’ possible sentences plummet by dozens of years. Parents of murdered children saw their perpetrators sentences drop from life without parole to parole within 15 years.
To be sure, it wasn’t Gascón or his advisers who saw the immediate devastating impact of these policies. The people who have seen the impact of his policies are his frontline prosecutors. These 800 civil servants, who have dedicated their careers to public safety, are now forced by Gascón’s directives to undermine it. As a result of these directives, they have seen people convicted of heinous crimes released with minimal consequence, they have seen others released without the support they need to successfully reintegrate, and they have seen it time and time again.
Frontline prosecutors in the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office are frustrated and alarmed. They’re frustrated because they’re told by Gascón that their concerns are “anti-science,” much in the same way that the Holmes’ COO dismissed the lab techs. They are alarmed because, in the face of skyrocketing murders and shootings, it appears as though Gascón is locking up the tools to address the problem and throwing away the key.
These feelings aren’t limited to L.A. County prosecutors. Others who work in the justice system – including court reporters, judges, and yes, even defense attorneys – are alarmed by the negative impact of these policies. Like the prosecutors, they are horrified not just at Gascón’s aversion to meaningful accountability, but also his inaction in the face of a desperate need for a major course-correction.
It is this collective frustration and fear that compelled the frontline prosecutors of the LADA’s Office to take the extraordinary step of voting to support the recall and removal from office of George Gascón. In the final vote, 97.9 percent supported his removal. A mere twelve voted against supporting the recall. This vote was not taken lightly. It was taken over a year into Gascón’s tenure in office. Prior to the vote, Gascón was invited to meet with frontline prosecutors to address their concerns. Like Holmes, Gascón brushed off and belittled the request.
Perhaps Gascón should heed the words of the Holmes’ prosecutor – Jina Choi, director of the SEC’s San Francisco regional office. When announcing charges against Holmes, Choi underscored the danger of visionary promises, reminding us, “[i]nnovators who seek to revolutionize and disrupt an industry must tell investors the truth about what their technology can do today, not just what they hope it might do someday.”
Perhaps Gascón should stop talking about how he might make us safer in the future, listen to his frontline deputies, and talk how he can make us safer today.
Eric W. 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.