- The Washington Times
Friday, February 12, 2021

Los Angeles prosecutors last week beat their boss, District Attorney George Gascon, in court when the judge blocked Mr. Gascon’s criminal justice overhaul that sought lighter sentences for repeat offenders.

The prosecutors didn’t stop there.

Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami, an outspoken critic of his boss’s agenda, followed up with a defamation lawsuit against Mr. Gascon.

The one-two punch of litigation underscored the bitter divisions over Mr. Gascon’s left-wing approach to law enforcement in America’s second-largest city.

Mr. Gascon is one of several big-city district attorneys whose campaigns were bankrolled by billionaire liberal activist George Soros’ political action committees. They entered office vowing not to prosecute certain drug and nonviolent offenses and, whenever possible, seek much lighter sentences.

In Philadelphia, St. Louis, Chicago and Los Angeles, the “Soros DAs” have seen homicide rates surge in 2020, often to record highs. The district attorneys say their policies don’t contribute to the violence.

In Los Angeles County Superior Court, the judge sided with the Association of Deputy District Attorneys for Los Angeles’ argument that California’s three-strikes law required prosecutors to include sentencing enhancements. It’s not a matter of prosecutorial discretion, as Mr. Gascon argued.

“The court ruled that the district attorney’s policy violated the law to benefit criminal defendants and ordered him to comply with the law,” the association said in a statement. “This ruling protects the communities which are disproportionately affected by higher crime rates and those who are victimized.”

Mr. Gascon conceded a setback to his agenda but vowed to press ahead with criminal justice overhauls.

“While [the] ruling does not impact the vast majority of the directives instituted on Dec. 8, 2020, the court did rule specifically on the Three Strikes policy, and other enhancements relating to pending cases,” he said in a memo to his office after the Feb. 8 ruling by Judge James Chalfant.

Mr. Gascon said he would appeal the ruling. 

The prosecutors will try to work out an arrangement with Mr. Gascon before heading back to court, said Michele Hanisee, a spokeswoman for the Association of Deputy District Attorneys.

Before the ink was dry on Judge Chalfant’s ruling, Mr. Hatami filed the defamation lawsuit against Mr. Gascon and his spokesman, Max Szabo. 

In the lawsuit, the longtime prosecutor accused Mr. Gascon of demeaning him in public, including saying Mr. Hatami sought the death penalty in a high-profile case as a vendetta and for his ego.

Mr. Gascon made the comment after Mr. Hatami obtained a death penalty verdict against Isauro Aguirre for torturing and killing her 8-year-old son.

The lawsuit also cites Mr. Szabo telling Fox 11 News in L.A., “Hatami’s delusional conspiracy theories raise questions as to one’s fitness to practice law.”

The defamation action also refers to comments Mr. Gascon offered in an interview about the heated atmosphere in the DA’s office, saying, “Some people will be unhappy and either become internal terrorists or leave.”

Ms. Hanisee noted that Mr. Hatami is of Iranian descent.

The court battles between the district attorney and his staff have not been replicated in other jurisdictions, partly because Los Angeles’ deputy district attorneys enjoy civil service protections, Ms. Hanisee said.

In Philadelphia, where longtime defense attorney and police critic Larry Krasner was elected district attorney backed by PACs flush with Mr. Soros’ cash, Mr. Krasner immediately fired dozens of veteran prosecutors.

The St. Louis Police Officer Association unsuccessfully sued Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, whose agenda and campaign financing are similar to Mr. Gascon’s and Mr. Krasner’s. The suit was dismissed.

Ms. Gardner won reelection in November, demonstrating her popularity with voters and reinforcing her position in opposition to the police union.

These fractures within law enforcement communities occurred against a backdrop of soaring crime in U.S. cities, including a record-high per capita crime rate in St. Louis.

The left-wing DAs deny their policies have contributed to the crime surge. Mr. Krasner took to Philadelphia’s radio waves last year to blame former President Donald Trump and systemic racism for the problems.

Mr. Gascon took office on Dec. 7, as Los Angeles was ending a particularly bloody year. Since then, shootings have continued unabated, the LAPD said.

Homicide figures for January marked a 63% increase from a year earlier, according to Los Angeles Police Department statistics.

• James Varney can be reached at jvarney@washingtontimes.com.

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