By Ryan Erlich
On Sunday morning, the Los Angeles Times endorsed George Gascón in the District Attorney’s race.
Their justification? Voters should “reject the nonsense and keep Gascón on the job and criminal justice reform in place.” The editorial board returned to that theme in their closing sentences. “Voters were right to pick him in 2020,” they wrote. “They ought to keep him in place for another term.”
Notice that language: “Keep him in place.”
Their editorial was not what one would call a “positive” or evidence-based endorsement. They didn’t argue that Gascón has “earned” a second four-year term. They didn’t point to any new proposals. They didn’t lean into statistics. There was no tally of exonerations. No list of successful prosecutions. No citation to a declining crime rate. No mention of cases filed against law enforcement officers. They didn’t even discuss his second-term agenda; in fact, it’s not clear that one exists.
Instead, they clung to a false premise: that failing to keep George Gascón in office will mean the end of criminal justice reform in Los Angeles.
They’re wrong. But they’re not alone.
Like their counterparts at the Times, some prospective voters also believe that Gascón’s highest political worth is that he simply occupies the office. If he’s in charge, the argument goes, L.A. can’t turn back the clock to the tough-on-crime policies of the past.
But what they don’t realize is that keeping Gascón “in place” means that we can’t move forward either, as an office or as a county.
And if you are truly committed to improving public safety in a just, compassionate, and sustainable way, herein lies the problem.
Gascón’s presence “in place” may prevent backsliding, but stasis for stasis’ sake is not progress. And electing Gascón to a second term as District Attorney won’t accelerate criminal justice reform; if anything, it may delay and inhibit it.
Why? Because George Gascón is a public pariah, as stale as the status quo. He has lost significant electoral support. He has alienated core county leaders, making “buy-in” from key stakeholders almost impossible. The business community dislikes him. So do those for whom violent crime is a destructive reality of life, not just an inconvenient statistic. He has become a counterproductive agent for change, just like he was in his final term in San Francisco.
Voters are looking for real solutions. They don’t like what’s going on and they don’t feel safe. Substantially more of them disapprove of Gascón’s job performance than approve of it. But they don’t want to “go back” to the way things were before. They support reform and they want to move forward, beyond Gascón, in a different direction.
And, frankly, so do many of my colleagues in the District Attorney’s Office.
We are sick of the old debates, and we’re tired of the wide, reactionary pendulum swings in state and local criminal justice policy.
We want something different: progress.
This campaign is not a binary choice between keeping Gascón “in place” or going back to the policies of the past, no matter how much the Los Angeles Times wants it to be. It’s actually a much more important choice between keeping Gascón “in place” or moving past him and pushing reform forward in a more constructive and effective way.
Those running for District Attorney, and their supporters, should keep this in mind.
Here’s a message for those candidates: you don’t need to convince voters to fire Gascón. They are ready to do it. But you must convince them that your version of tomorrow will be better than his. Be more than just your Day One plans to “repeal” his special directives. Stop telling us what policies you’d “bring back.” Start explaining what you’d do differently. Be specific. Be modern. Be bold. Be forward-looking. Be progressive.
Los Angeles is a big county and serving as its elected District Attorney is a big job. We’re facing generational problems that need and demand transformative solutions: on homelessness, mental health, addiction, economic insecurity, environmental injustice, intolerance, and political incivility. Our office can, and should, lead on those issues.
We can’t afford to think small, to go backward, or, as the Times suggests, “keep in place.” It’s time to go beyond who and what we have. It’s time to move past George Gascón. It’s time to move ahead.
Ryan Erlich is Vice President of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys (ADDA), the collective bargaining agent representing over 800 Deputy District Attorneys working for the County of Los Angeles.
By Kathy Cady
In the criminal justice system, a prosecutor’s role of seeking justice extends beyond the courtroom; it involves a profound responsibility to victims’ families, ensuring their voices are heard and their concerns addressed. Under District Attorney George Gascón, this fundamental duty has been abandoned.
Instead of championing the rights of victims and their families, the Gascón administration has opted for a disheartening approach of rolling over or engaging in opaque backroom deals on resentencing. The troubling trend continues with intentionally concealing information from the parole board, motivated by a fear that transparency might unfavorably impact convicted defendants. Perhaps most disturbing is Gascón’s conspicuous absence in aiding victims’ families as they navigate the parole process – a deliberate choice that, unfortunately, aligns with a concerning outcome: the release of violent criminals back onto our streets. Today, victims’ families are not only overlooked but, tragically, are re-victimized because Gascon prioritizes the interests of the accused over the rights and safety of those who have suffered the most. And here’s another sad example that illustrates the failures of George Gascón.
At 19, Marco Antonio Juarez Jr. stood on the threshold of a promising future. Marco was a commendable young man—an LAPD Explorer with dreams of becoming a police officer. In the zenith of his life, Marco’s aspirations were abruptly extinguished on the evening of April 21, 2006, when he fell victim to a tragic act of violence, executed by a gang member. This poignant incident robbed him of his dreams and left an indelible void in the hearts of those who knew him.
For the past 17 years, Marco’s family has grappled with the persistent absence of their beloved son and brother. The ache of missing him endures daily, intensifying on significant occasions like birthdays (October 12) and holidays, which serve as poignant reminders of his absence. Each passing “anniversary” of his untimely death brings renewed agony. Marco would have just celebrated his 37th birthday, prompting reflections on unfulfilled possibilities—questions linger about marriage and the wistful curiosity about the potential children he might have had. The family pays their respects in the only place they can, the cemetery, where dreams of shared futures were tragically cut short.
The murderer, Ramiro “Criminal” Munoz, was sentenced to 50 years to life because the murder was for the benefit of a gang. Seventeen years after Marco’s tragic murder, Gascón’s office has consented to resentence the perpetrator, providing him with a newly formulated and ostensibly “improved” sentence that renders him immediately eligible for a parole hearing. Gascón’s decision compounds the ordeal by leaving Marco’s grieving family to face the parole hearing on their own, representing yet another disheartening development. Under Gascón’s policies, prosecutors in Los Angeles County are compelled to abdicate their roles and responsibilities at parole hearings, leaving Marco’s family to confront this painful and challenging process without the support they rightfully deserve.
In April 2006, Marco and some friends planned to drive from the San Fernando Valley to Las Vegas for a family gathering. They stopped for snacks at a food vendor truck. Marco’s friends got out of the car to get potato chips. Munoz, a gang member, was unfortunately driving near the food truck, too. Munoz yelled out his gang name and asked the deadly question: where are you “from.” Marco, wanting to protect his friends, made a U-turn to pick them up. Munoz took out a revolver and fired two shots at Marco’s car. Marco was hit in his neck and head. Marco’s car crashed into another vehicle. Marco’s friend ran to him and asked him if he was ok. Marco said, “Don’t worry, I’m going to be ok. A friend gives his life for his friends.” Unfortunately, Marco was not ok. Marco’s family was with him for one agonizing night in the hospital. Marco died on April 22. He had given his life for his friends.
Munoz was an active member of Barrio Van Nuys (BVN), a violent street gang that claimed control over the street and the neighborhood where the victim was shot. BVN demonstrated control over the neighborhood and instilled fear in the community and the surrounding gang areas by committing violent crimes. Munoz thought that Marco was driving the car they’d been in a “road rage” incident earlier in the day. Munoz was wrong. Marco was murdered because Munoz thought he was someone else. Gangs tear at the very fabric of our society, and innocent victims are often hit in the crossfire. Marco was one of those victims. The intimidation didn’t stop, and in December of 2006, witness intimidation charges were filed against other BVN members after witnesses in the trial against Munoz were threatened.
Because of recent laws, Munoz would have been scheduled for a parole hearing within the next few years. California Penal Code § 3051. This is even though his sentence was 50 years to life. Munoz’s attorney has, however, filed a Resentencing Motion because Munoz was under 18 when he murdered Marco. At least one other judge in Los Angeles has denied a similar motion. Still, instead of allowing a prosecutor to defend the sentence, Gascón’s office has offered the defendant a new sentence of 15 years to life, making Munoz immediately eligible for a parole hearing, which Marco’s family will have to attend ALONE.
A parole hearing aims to determine whether the inmate poses a current unreasonable risk if released. Prosecutors from the county where the crime occurred attend and participate in parole hearings. Prosecutors have many important legal responsibilities at parole hearings. The prosecutor is the sole representative of the People and the only person who can advocate for public safety. The prosecutor’s job is to review the inmate’s file, comment on the facts of the case and give an opinion on whether the defendant is suitable for parole. The prosecutor also submits relevant information for the Parole Board’s consideration. The prosecutor can also ask clarifying questions highlighting relevant facts for the parole commissioners. California Government Code § 3041.7 and Cal. Code Regs. tit. 15 § 2030.
Victims have an absolute right to attend the parole hearing of the person who murdered their loved one. California Constitution Article I, Section 28(b)(15). Victims are shepherded through the process by the prosecutor attending the parole hearing.
Each month, there are over 100 parole suitability hearings for prisoners convicted of crimes committed in Los Angeles County.
The Abdication Trifecta: No Prosecutor, No Sharing Of Prison Records, No Providing Information To The Parole Board
On December 7, 2020, Gascón issued a policy that prohibited prosecutors in Los Angeles County from attending parole hearings. The result of Gascón’s ill-conceived policy is that for the last three years, prosecutors have not participated in parole hearings to protect the safety of Los Angeles County residents. Convicted inmates continue to have an attorney represent them at a parole hearing, but victims from Los Angeles County who choose to participate in the parole hearing must do so alone.
In preparation for a parole hearing, the Board of Parole Hearings (BPH) provides access to the inmate’s prison file to the district attorney’s office that prosecuted that inmate. Prosecutors then share relevant information with victims and surviving family members of murder victims to help emotionally and mentally prepare victims for a possible parole grant or, conversely, gives them information on why the inmate continues to pose an unreasonable risk to public safety. In July 2021, Gascón’s hand-picked surrogate, Diana Teran, notified the prison to stop allowing prosecutors in Los Angeles County to access prison records.
Although prosecutors in other counties routinely send records to the state prison, Gascón’s policies no longer allow that. Again, at Teran’s direction, as of July 2022, Los Angeles County no longer sends any records to the parole board. That means the parole board does not have police reports, probation reports, transcripts of the defendant’s statements to police, the trial prosecutor’s Statement of View, or any other information about the underlying crime.
The parole board must necessarily evaluate the inmate’s credibility and recounting of the crime itself to decide whether the inmate is minimizing, denying, changing, or otherwise misrepresenting the facts of his crime or his role in the crime. With no fact-checking against police reports, the Board is left to rely on what the inmate tells them.
It’s like the fox guarding the henhouse.
The absence of a prosecutor puts the public at risk. Not providing victims with information on how an inmate has behaved in prison causes them additional anxiety before the hearing. Not providing records to the parole board endangers public safety.
The prosecutor provides a necessary check to the inmate’s biased and self-interested statements and challenges their version of the crime, showing a lack of insight and remorse. Without a prosecutor present, there is no critical voice at parole hearings.
This allows a convicted defendant to pull the wool over the parole commissioner’s eyes.
Not surprisingly, not having a prosecutor at parole hearings has resulted in a substantially higher grant rate. In 2021, the grant rate was 31% when a prosecutor attended a parole hearing and 38% when a prosecutor was absent. In 2022, the grant rate was 25% when a prosecutor participated in the parole hearing but jumped to 33% without a prosecutor. What that means is hundreds of inmates serving a life sentence have been released into Los Angeles neighborhoods because a prosecutor wasn’t there to represent the People, advocate for public safety or ask clarifying questions.
Victims of crime committed in Los Angeles County are treated differently from victims in every other county. Gascón’s policies fail in every conceivable way to ensure that victims are not abandoned.
Gascón’s consistent and widespread disregard for victims’ rights seems driven by a singular objective: the mass release of murderers, child molesters, and rapists from incarceration. The toll on our society is profound, exacerbating the pain already endured by families like Marco’s, who were initially traumatized by his tragic murder. Gascón’s abandonment in their time of greatest need compounds the cruelty, subjecting them to renewed trauma and distress when support is crucial for their healing.
About Kathy Cady
Kathy Cady, a Victims’ Rights Attorney at Dordulian Law Group, brings over three decades of legal expertise, including 31 years as a Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office prosecutor. With a specialization in family violence, child abuse, and sexual assault cases, Ms. Cady conducted over 90 felony jury trials. In her distinguished career, she served as the Deputy-in-Charge of the Victim Impact Program (VIP), overseeing vertical prosecutions in cases involving sexual assault, child abuse, elder abuse, family violence, stalking, and hate crimes at the Los Angeles County District Attorney Pasadena Branch Office. Before this, she was a Special Assistant to the Bureau of Victim Services Director, contributing significantly to protecting victims’ rights.
Ms. Cady’s impactful contributions extend beyond the courtroom, encompassing extensive lecturing on topics like child physical and sexual abuse, the criminal justice system, victims’ rights, services, restitution, and issues faced by victims with disabilities. She is a seasoned author, having written articles on domestic violence, child abuse, and victims’ rights. A proactive advocate, Ms. Cady has actively drafted legislation and testified in Sacramento on matters related to victims’ rights and child abuse. Her commitment to the cause is further reflected in her role as a Board Member of the National Crime Victim Law Institute, the Children’s Advocacy Center for Child Abuse Assessment and Treatment, Justice for Homicide Victims, and Justice for Murdered Children. She also served on the California Children’s Justice Act Task Force.
In her current capacity at Dordulian Law Group, Ms. Cady provides pro bono representation to crime victims, lending her wealth of experience to help them assert their rights in criminal and juvenile justice cases.
About the ADDA
The Association of Deputy District Attorneys (ADDA) is the collective bargaining agent representing over 800 Deputy District Attorneys working for the County of Los Angeles