A California judge has partially ruled against Soros-backed Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón’s sweeping criminal justice reform package on Monday, ruling that some of his directives violated California law and would have placed his deputy district attorneys in legal and ethical jeopardy.
Superior Court Judge James Chalfant issued his ruling in response to a lawsuit filed by Gascón’s own deputy district attorneys, who alleged in their lawsuit that Gascón’s policies — which prohibited them from applying sentencing enhancements that have long been considered mandatory under California law — would have required them to violate California law and their own ethical obligations. Specifically, they argued that policies are unlawful that require them to not seek certain sentencing enhancements that are mandated by California law.
With respect to cases that have already been filed, Judge Chalfant agreed, issuing a preliminary injunction preventing those policies from being implemented. Of specific importance, California law requires district attorneys who are seeking to drop sentencing enhancements to make representations to the court that certain circumstances exist, and the judge found that Gascón’s policy would have effectively required these district attorneys to lie in court.
The judge also faulted Gascón’s policies for failing to take into account the effect they would have on victims of crime, as required under California law. As Chalfant noted, “There is not a single reference to a concern for victims in the sentencing process” under Gascón’s policies.
However, the judge declined to enjoin Gascón from implementing his policies with respect to cases brought in the future, noting that prosecutors generally have wide discretion in performing those duties. The judge was not swayed by the deputy district attorneys’ arguments that California state law clearly and plainly states that prosecutors “shall” seek sentencing requirements in certain cases, claiming (in reasoning that would certainly come as a surprise to most speakers of English) that “shall” is not always considered mandatory in legislative statutes and that such language cannot constrain the discretion inherent in prosecutorial functions.
Moreover, the judge ruled, Gascón’s policies should not have been a “surprise” since he explicitly ran on implementing them. It is unclear from Chalfant’s decision how Gascón’s victory in his local election is legally relevant to the interpretation of the plain text of California state law.
Gascón has promised to appeal the judge’s decision, but also has promised to abide by the terms of the judge’s injunction until that appeal has been decided.