By Eric Siddall
“Internal terrorist” is an old LAPD management term used for those who don’t “get with the program.” Much has changed within LAPD, but not for some of its alums.
One in particular, George Gascón—former LAPD brass—used the antiquated term during his campaign for district attorney. When asked how he would work within civil service rules to implement his agenda, he was not concerned. “I know certainly how to deal” with “internal terrorists.” He wasn’t lying.
Since Gascón took office on December 7, 2020, those who question his policies are deemed internal terrorists. “To deal” with them or their views, he has employed methods that violate California’s criminal and labor laws. Yet, even when a court has ruled against him, there is little consequence to these actions. For every lawsuit responding to his actions, for every complaint, for every hearing, there is an unlimited litigation budget paid for by L.A. County taxpayers. This enables him to ignore the law, while fighting it off with high-priced, taxpayer-subsidized lawyers.
In December 2020, the Association of Deputy District Attorneys sued Gascón to enjoin him from violating state criminal statutes. Gascón spared no taxpayer dollar to defend his novel position that the executive branch has the power to ignore the other two branches of government. After the superior court judge ruled against him, Gascón hired the nation’s most expensive litigator. We still don’t know how much this case cost the taxpayers.
Meanwhile, because of a byzantine labor system, Gascón has played a game of siege warfare. He wantonly flouts civil service rules, violations pile up against him, but, because he has access to unlimited taxpayer money, a lawful remedy for these violations can be held at bay by using litigation tactics that cause endless delays. Normally, delay tactics cost money, but when you never see the bill, it doesn’t matter.
This is how you deal with “internal terrorists.” You hold the system hostage with endless delays. These delays make a mockery of our civil service system and the county charter which were designed in response to the graft and political cronyism that infected many eastern cities in the nineteenth century. Abuses like the Tammany Hall ring that used government jobs and taxpayer money to reward political patronage in New York inspired many of our current good government policies. In one instance, “Boss” Tweed and the Tammany machine pocketed the equivalent of half a billion dollars (adjusted for inflation) on one county courthouse project.
Our current system—for all of its flaws—was designed to protect against graft and cronyism while ensuring that political leaders could still carry out their mandates. The elected leaders just have to act within the parameters of the law.
The L.A. Times editorial board—knowing these rules—advised Gascón accordingly: “To implement his agenda successfully, he will have to win over his office with the power of persuasion and an appeal to his prosecutors’ professionalism.” They were right, under the civil service rules, persuasion and professionalism were the right vehicle for change, not fiat.
But rules are inconvenient. They require negotiation, patience, and consensus building. So, rather than working within the rules, Gascón, a veteran of the old Daryl Gates LAPD school of management, manipulated and sometimes even ignored them. He rewarded political allies who helped him in the campaign. He dismissed criminal charges against a political ally. Backroom deals were cut. He retaliated against those who questioned his orders. He refused to comply with California’s Public Records Act. His first retaliation order cost taxpayers over a million dollars to settle—and that didn’t include attorney fees. As he promised, he knew how to deal with internal terrorist.
Despite being limited by the county charter to six political positions, he rewarded political supporters by moving them into civil service protected positions. Under normal circumstances, a vacant government position requires a job posting that outlines the qualifications the candidate must possess to apply for the position. This good government practice ensures that through open competition, qualified candidates will fill open positions.
Gascón ignored this practice. Instead, he hand selected deputy public defenders who were political supporters, or friends of political supporters, to fill civil service prosecutor positions without the normally mandatory public job listing or requisite exam. This not only violated civil service principles, but, at a time when deputy public defenders were complaining about their workload, it took frontline defense lawyers out of their ranks into the district attorney’s office. Nor did this transfer assist the urgent need for trial attorneys, since it seems most of these deputy public defenders were promised that they needn’t prosecute most types of crime.
While the hiring of his political allies is being challenged before the Civil Service Commission, Gascón continues to stall a final decision by the commission by throwing up road blocks and filing frivolous motions that fly in the face of open and transparent government. And because he has unlimited resources (read taxpayer money) these motions are routinely filed and summarily rejected.
His latest venture is aimed at intimidating newly hired deputy district attorneys. For decades, newly hired deputy district attorneys were placed on probation for a year at a reduced salary. After the first year, they were evaluated by their supervisors. If they passed probation, they were automatically promoted, given a salary increase, and civil service protection. If they didn’t pass probation, they were fired. The system was designed to make sure that candidates had the required prosecutorial skills and temperament before given a permanent job.
Legally, any change to this practice requires negotiation with the union. Gascón conveniently ignored that rule. Without any notice, he ordered newly hired deputy district attorneys to take an exam that doesn’t contain one question testing prosecutorial skills or temperament. There is no known legitimate purpose for this exam. In fact, when one of the new hires questioned whether the exam would be used for their promotion, the answer from Human Resources Division was, “no.” So what is the purpose of the exam? The answer may lie in the test questions themselves, more than one of which reportedly ask the test-taker about their loyalty to the employer.
Even more problematic, we are unaware whether the test addresses concerns of racial disparity. For example, the University of California recently abandoned standardized testing for admissions because of concerns with “racist metrics.” Does this test cause racial disparity? Gascón has refused to meet and confer on these real concerns.
This brings us back to how you deal with “internal terrorist.” It seems Gascón has the answer to that one: flush out your political enemies and reward those who show allegiance.
Eric Siddall is Vice President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing over 800 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles. His commentary above was published in the Metropolitan News-Enterprise on November 8, 2022.