Throughout my 34 years in the criminal justice system, as a prosecutor, defense attorney, and victims’ advocate, I have often thought about the repetition of the word “justice” in this biblical admonition. Through my experience, I have come to believe that the dual use of “justice” is a clarion call to all lawyers, and particularly to a District Attorney, to simultaneously pursue two aspects of justice – procedural justice and substantive justice – in order to achieve JUSTICE.
To achieve procedural justice, a District Attorney must ensure that the law and due process are rigorously adhered to so that the charges brought and evidence presented in court accord with the highest levels of procedural propriety. Procedural justice wears a blindfold and acts impartially based on just the facts and the law and not a personal agenda. Substantive justice goes beyond the procedural safeguards and requires a District Attorney to achieve just and fair results for the victims and the public against those who break our laws.
Our current District Attorney, George Gascon, has failed to achieve JUSTICE in both respects. On the procedural justice front, on his first day in office in December 2020, he issued nine pro-criminal blanket policies that instructed his prosecutors not to follow certain laws dealing with violent criminals, guns, and gangs, substituting his political ideology for the laws passed by the public and the state legislature. For example, he stated his deputies could no longer bring Three Strikes cases against the most dangerous criminals who were convicted of two prior violent or serious crimes and now had committed another.
The association representing those deputies hired myself and my law firm to file a lawsuit against their boss, arguing that Gascon could not violate the law to try to enforce it. We succeeded in stopping that policy in its tracks; Gascon appealed; and an appellate court ruled that Gascon is “an elected official who must comply with the law, not a sovereign with absolute, unreviewable discretion.” Procedural justice can only occur when a District Attorney is independent, making the calls over people’s liberty based solely on the facts and the law, and not his political whims. I will be such an independent District Attorney, starting with the fact that I am the only candidate who has registered as an Independent (no party preference) in this race. Unlike Gascon, if I take the oath as District Attorney, I will swear to uphold all the laws, not just the select laws that meet my personal litmus test.
As for substantive justice, Gascon has chosen to place criminals’ interests over victims, boasting of having saved violent and serious criminals over 10,000 years of prison time that the evidence and law otherwise justified. As a “defense attorney,” he has succeeded; as the District Attorney, he has grossly abdicated his duties.
To bring substantive justice to victims, I will reject blanket policies and bring back a “hard middle” approach, conducting an individualized analysis of the defendant, the crime committed, and the impact on the victim to put those who threaten our public safety behind bars and offer those who don’t – a first-time, non-violent offender – the chance for community service or diversion to pay their debt to society.
I will reverse Gascon’s policies forbidding prosecutors to attend parole hearings with victims; reinvigorate the partnership with law enforcement rather than hire a Chief of Staff, like Gascon did with Tiffany Blacknell, who believes law enforcement officers are “barbarians” and an “occupying army;” re-establish the trust within the office with the over 900 prosecutors who voted 97.8% to support Gascon’s recall; and restore the DA Office’s credibility with the public, 60% of whom feel less safe today than when Gascon took office.
Justice, Justice will I pursue as District Attorney, not politics.