Friends in High Places

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Teran Affair Raises Questions, Reveals Limited Standard of Accountability for Those in Gascon’s Inner Circle Who Commit Bad Acts

By Ryan Erlich

As you all know by now, the Attorney General of California has charged Diana Teran, George Gascón’s handpicked Assistant District Attorney for Ethics and Integrity, with 11 felony violations of Penal Code section 502(c)(2), better known as “accessing and using computer data without permission.” She faces a maximum term of more than nine years in prison if convicted on all counts.

The Attorney General’s charging decision is just the first step in what promises to be a long journey from arraignment to plea or trial. Teran’s case may not resolve until after the November 2024 general election.

The revelations in the Attorney General’s complaint are new, but not shocking. After all, the Teran Affair reminds us, once again, of an old fact that we already knew to be true.

When it comes to discipline, this District Attorney has one set of rules for line deputies and another set of rules for the most loyal sycophants in his inner circle.

We all know — too well — what that double standard looks like. Many of our fellow ADDA members (and some of our unrepresented colleagues) have suffered significant personal and professional consequences because of it.

Here are a few examples of how Gascón and his acolytes have dealt with career prosecutors who have had the guts to question them…

Within hours of taking office in 2020, Gascón ordered an experienced branch court supervisor to dismiss a politically sensitive case. When the supervisor raised questions about the legal and factual bases for that order, the District Attorney removed him from his position and transferred him to a dead-end assignment. The supervisor sued. The County settled the case for almost $1 million.

In April 2022, a group of veteran sex crimes and domestic violence prosecutors in the office’s VIP unit warned Gascón in a memo that “[c]ritical staffing shortages, combined with drastically increasing caseloads and additional work requirements” were putting the county’s most vulnerable victims in grave danger. When the memo leaked to the press in March 2023, Gascón dissolved the unit and moved many of the memo’s authors out of management altogether.

In early October 2022, a Public Integrity Division (“PID”) deputy filed a case with the express and explicit approval of Gascón’s Chief Deputy. When the case caused political problems for the District Attorney, the administration dismissed it. Then Gascón pulled the deputy out of PID and put him on administrative leave… for more than a year. The charged defendant sued the County; that lawsuit recently concluded with a $5 million settlement. The affected line deputy has also taken legal action; his claim is pending.

In October 2022, the Justice System Integrity Division (“JSID”) declined to file excessive force charges against a law enforcement officer. Teran worked to delay the public announcement of that decision because she thought clearing the officer would help her political opponent. When a JSID line deputy questioned the ethics and propriety of Teran’s decision to sit on the declination until after the 2022 general election, the deputy was removed from her assignment and transferred to another unit. A lawsuit is pending.

A veteran supervisor, a former Assistant District Attorney, and a new prosecutor with a young family all raised questions about Gascón’s inflexible juvenile policies. The former Assistant District Attorney was demoted. The veteran supervisor was transferred to a significantly diminished assignment. The new prosecutor was suspended without pay. The veteran prosecutor sued; a jury awarded her $1.5 million. Additional lawsuits are pending.

Compare those actions to how Gascón reacts when those closest to him do worse things.

In December 2021, Azusa police arrested Chief Deputy Joseph F. Iniguez for public intoxication. Iniguez allegedly threatened the arresting officer during that arrest. Iniguez also claimed that he recorded the arrest on video. But that video, if it exists at all, has never been released.

As far as we know, Iniguez has faced no consequences for his behavior. He is still Chief Deputy, the office’s highest unelected position. He remains Gascón’s closest advisor. And he has been well compensated for his loyalty. According to Transparent California, Iniguez took home more than $405,000 in total pay and benefits in 2022. In 2020, when he was a Deputy District Attorney II (before Gascón was elected), Iniguez earned less than $160,000 in salary and benefits. It pays to have friends in high places.

That brings us to Diana Teran.

Her case is in its nascent stages. But it is not too early to ask Gascón and his inner circle some key questions, beginning with “what did the District Attorney know and when did he know it?”

George Gascón claimed in an office-wide email that he learned about the Attorney General’s filing when many of us did: “late” on Wednesday afternoon. But did Gascón know about the investigation before then? If so, when? Did he know that the AG was investigating Teran when he promoted her to Assistant District Attorney of Ethics & Integrity in December 2023? Did anyone else in the “executive team” know she was under investigation? As an investigative “target,” did Teran retain counsel? Did her attorney-client relationship with that retained counsel affect any case under her supervision?

Before she was charged with 11 felonies, Teran supervised 20 or more special units, including Conviction Review, Resentencing, PID, JSID, Appellate, and Organized Crime. These units handle some of the office’s most politically charged cases. Now that Teran is facing prison time, what steps has or will the District Attorney take to ensure that her alleged wrongdoing did not infect more matters than those referenced in the AG’s complaint? Will there be a top-to-bottom review of her work? Will that review be internal or external? Who will run it?

A recent office memo (GOM 24-043) suggested that Teran has been moved out of management. Is that a temporary or permanent move? Is Teran still an active employee of the District Attorney’s Office? Did she resign? Was she asked to do so? Was she escorted from the office? Does she still have access to sensitive material or office resources? Is she on administrative leave? Can she still practice law? Is she still drawing some or all the $363,000 in pay and benefits that she earned in 2022? And who is going to pay to “defend” her?

We hope that the District Attorney will answer these and other relevant questions sooner rather than later, and preferably in a live public press conference. Angelenos have a right to know how he intends to handle this bubbling (and potentially career-ending) political crisis. Will he hold Teran accountable for her actions? Does he regret entrusting the office’s “Ethics and Integrity” to someone with apparently lax ethics and integrity? Will he take the Attorney General’s allegations seriously? Or will Teran get the same lenient special treatment that Iniguez received when he was arrested for public intoxication?

Failure to promptly address and disclose this information further undermines trust and accountability in our justice system. And in this administration, trust and accountability are always in depressingly and distressingly short supply.

Ryan Erlich is Vice President of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys (ADDA), the collective bargaining agent representing over 750 Deputy District Attorneys working for the County of Los Angeles.

Kennedy children denounce George Gascón’s parole policy, endorse challenger

By Eric Leonard and Andrew Blankstein

NBC LOS ANGELES — Rory and Max Kennedy, a daughter and son of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, announced Tuesday their support for the candidate trying to unseat LA County District Attorney George Gascón over what they say are Gascón’s policies that disregard the needs of crime victims and in particular, bar prosecutors from participating in parole hearings for convicted murderers.

“He is not qualified to be the district attorney,” Rory Kennedy said at a campaign event for Gascón’s challenger, Nathan Hochman, on the steps of the Hall of Justice in Downtown LA.

“Gascon prohibits his prosecutors from filing charges they believe are appropriate,” she said. “He boycotts parole hearings and leaves grieving victims to fend for themselves.”

Robert Kennedy was shot to death at the former Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles in 1968 while campaigning as a presidential candidate, and the man convicted of the murder, Sirhan Sirhan, was denied parole 15 times prior to Gascón’s election.

The DA’s office sent a representative to each of those hearings to present an account of the assassination.

The Kennedys said they’ve never before opposed a Democrat running for office but said they were moved to go public following Gascón’s decision not to advocate against the release of their father’s assassin during a 16th parole hearing in 2022.

“I contacted the district attorney’s office, and the attorney, who had been assigned to it, told me she was not allowed to, accompany us,” said Max Kennedy.

The 2022 panel recommended Sirhan’s release, but the decision was reversed by Gov. Newsom. A 2023 parole board, again without participation from the DA’s office under the policy, did not recommend Sirhan’s release.

Gascón’s office and campaign representatives declined to comment on the Kennedys’ statements.

In 2021 Gascón’s spokesperson told NBC News that the DA believed the role of prosecutors ended with the trial and sentencing, and decisions about parole should be made independently by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.