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Here are the 11 challengers looking to replace LA County DA George Gascón

District Attorney George Gascón will face 11 challengers in Tuesday’s primary election, featuring a mix of prosecutors and candidates who say they can offer a more moderate approach to criminal justice reform.

Gascón was elected in 2020 over incumbent Jackie Lacey as he promised a wave of progressive changes. But he has been under fire since taking office by issuing a series of directives critics have blasted as being soft on crime.

The directives included a rule against seeking the death penalty, a ban on transferring juvenile defendants to adult court and prohibitions on filing sentencing enhancements in most cases.

“This campaign is not about me, this is a community movement,” Gascón said last November, when he kicked off his reelection campaign. “This is about looking at the criminal justice system of the 21st century not with a rear-view mirror but looking forward.”

Among the candidates running for his job are five members of Gascón’s office:

Jonathan Hatami, a child abuse prosecutor; Lloyd “Bobcat” Masson, a cold case prosecutor; John McKinney, supervising district attorney; Maria Ramirez, the head deputy D.A.; and Eric Siddall, a violent crimes prosecutor. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judges Debra Archuleta and Craig J. Mitchell are also on the ballot, along with David S. Milton, who retired as a Superior Court judge in 2014.

The other candidates are Jeff Chemerinsky, an assistant U.S. attorney; Nathan Hochman, a former U.S. assistant attorney general who was the Republican candidate for state attorney general in the 2022 general election; and criminal defense attorney Dan Kapelovitz. Most of the opponents are challenging a number of Gascón’s policies, with numerous candidates framing a narrative of out-of-control crime in Los Angeles, driven by lenient policies enabling criminals’ release.

Jonathan Hatami

Whittier, CA – March 29: DDA Jonathan Hatami announces his bid to challenge L.A. D.A. George Gascon in the 2024 election cycle at the Mission Square Restaurant on Wednesday, March 29, 2023, in Whittier, CA. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Hatami, who was hired as a deputy D.A. in 2006, said he wants to restore public safety and make meaningful reforms in the office. “As your district attorney, I will prioritize public safety by implementing comprehensive strategies to protect all of our communities from danger, prevent crime, maintain peace, hold violent offenders accountable and establish a path to success for low-level offenders,” Hatami said on his campaign’s website.

Hatami also served in the nation’s first Complex Child Abuse unit at the Hall of Justice in downtown Los Angeles, according to his campaign. “I believe in reforms, rehabilitation and second chances,” Hatami said. “However, we must first and always follow the law. We must balance reforms with public safety and protecting our most vulnerable.” Hatami vows to “bring transparency back to the people’s office, hold wrongdoers accountable, and make real, meaningful reforms.”

Lloyd “Bobcat” Masson

Masson, another member of the D.A.’s office and a cold case prosecutor, portrays himself as a prosecutor, not a politician. According to his campaign, Masson is the only candidate in the race who has never been affiliated or registered with any political party. “Let’s take back our streets and start investing in our youth so we can end the cycles of trauma,” Masson said on his campaign’s website. “LA needs a strong D.A. to tell criminals that playtime is over.”

Masson said his top priority is “dropping the hammer” on all robbery, burglary and theft-related offenses, including follow-home robberies, car thefts, retail theft and catalytic converter thefts. “I would also end all blanket zero-bail policies and operate in accord with what local communities want,” Masson added. The prosecutor stated that sticking to old tough-on-crime tactics won’t solve the problem, just as the “current emphasis on no jail time has not worked.” He added: “We need every tool available to solve L.A.’s crime problem. To this end, we must explore solutions such as new technologies in rehabilitation and justice without sacrificing our victims’ voices in criminal cases.”

Masson has spent the past four years as a cold case prosecutor. Previously, he served in the gang unit for more than five years.

John McKinney

Industry, CA, Wednesday, October 2023 – John McKinney at the Los Angeles District Attorney candidates forum at Pacific Palms Resort. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

McKinney, a deputy district attorney for L.A. County for 25 years, has also criticized Gascón, saying the D.A. has taken the county too far to one side. “Since George Gascón took office, our justice system has become a dangerous experiment reducing consequences for crimes and eroding accountability,” McKinney said in a campaign ad. “Crime is up. Confidence in our justice system is down.” McKinney said he will restore common sense to the D.A.’s office and ensure victims receive justice. “I will support all communities while pursuing evidence-based reforms that make our system more just for all. On my watch, the punishment will always fit the crime — no more, no less,” McKinney said on his campaign’s website. “Whenever possible, we will focus on the source of crime, such as the leaders of organized crime rings, cartels, and drug operations.”

Maria Ramirez

Industry, CA, Wednesday, October 2023 – Maria Ramirez at the Los Angeles District Attorney candidates forum at Pacific Palms Resort. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Ramirez, head deputy D.A., joined the District Attorney’s Office in 1990 and became the first Latina to be promoted to that position, according to her campaign. Ramirez said voters have grown distrustful of Gascón’s leadership. “We, as leaders of the justice system in L.A. County, must begin to fix the deep erosion of public trust,” Ramirez said on her campaign’s website. “And that begins with recommitting to actually protecting the residents of Los Angeles County by ending the cycle of violence with appropriate and fair measures of justice.” In order to achieve any meaningful change, Ramirez said the D.A.’s office must collaborate with community leaders to develop effective crime prevention strategies in communities that have been “burdened with inadequate infrastructure, resources and services.” She added: “George Gascón got reform wrong by blindly implementing blanket policies that did not create sustainable change but rather endangered our communities. Gascón directed the release of a high number of violent offenders without ensuring a safety net for them with jobs and social services.” Ramirez said prosecutors must keep the community safe by restoring accountability and implementing responsible rehabilitation measures.

Eric Siddall

Industry, CA, Wednesday, October 2023 – Eric Siddall at the Los Angeles District Attorney candidates forum at Pacific Palms Resort. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Siddall, a violent crime prosecutor and deputy D.A., is running on a platform of advocating for responsible reform while prioritizing public safety. He said he will lead a new generation of prosecutors to work with law enforcement to reduce crime. “We need to advance a violence reduction strategy focused on holding the most violent criminals accountable, while recognizing the potential for rehabilitation,” Siddall said on his campaign’s website. “We need to develop an infrastructure to deal with our mentally ill and homeless populations that does not involve cycled-incarceration, but also recognizes that releasing people back onto the street without a plan is a danger to everyone, including the defendant.” Siddall, who is an openly gay Latino, served for nearly a decade as vice president of the Los Angeles Association of Deputy District Attorneys. Siddall and the deputy D.A.’s union has been among Gascón’s most prominent critics. They successfully sued to block a portion of Gascón’s reform platform limiting the use of sentencing enhancements against felons charged with new offenses after a judge agreed with the union’s contention that it violated California’s “three strikes” law. Siddall stepped down from the union post in order to declare his candidacy. He has been a deputy district attorney since 2007. Siddall vows to enact common sense criminal justice reforms, and focus on ones that are evidence-based.

Debra Archuleta

Industry, CA, Wednesday, October 2023 -Judge Debra Archuleta at the Los Angeles District Attorney candidates forum at Pacific Palms Resort. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

The two current L.A. County Superior Court judges, Archuleta and Mitchell, are eligible to run for office because they took a leave of absence without pay, Rob Oftring, the communications director of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, told City News Service. Archuleta was a trial lawyer before joining the bench six years ago and has handled more than 100 jury trials, according to her campaign. “For the last three years, George Gascón has implemented policies that have made communities across Los Angeles County more dangerous,” Archuleta said on her campaign’s website. “That needs to change, and it will only change with a District Attorney who has the experience to do the job and the ability to defeat George Gascón.” She said violent crime is the No. 1 issue facing L.A. County residents. “As your next District Attorney, I bring 26 years of experience of prosecuting cases involving violent crime, unlike George Gascón, who has never prosecuted a case in court,” Archuleta said. “Violent criminals will be prosecuted and punished, especially those who use guns and other deadly weapons. I will end the `catch and release’ policies of the current District Attorney.” Archuleta added that she will crack down on organized retail theft, also known as “smash-and-grab” robberies. “I will prosecute these criminals to the fullest extent of the law, departing from Gascón’s catch-and-release policies that enable these offenders to repeat their crimes without consequences,” Archuleta said.

Craig J. Mitchell

Industry, CA, Wednesday, October 2023 – Craig Mitchell at the Los Angeles District Attorney candidates forum at Pacific Palms Resort. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Mitchell was appointed to the L.A. County Superior Court in 2005. He has presided over numerous high-profile cases and has become known for his commitment to rehabilitation and restorative justice, according to his campaign. Prior to serving as a judge, Mitchell was an L.A. deputy D.A. for more than a decade. “Los Angeles is in crisis,” Mitchell said on his campaign’s website. “This crisis cannot be solved with a one-size-fits-all system of justice. I will put our citizens first.” Mitchell said public safety will be his top priority. “Public safety is simply not Gascón’s main priority — rather, it is to minimize the consequences criminals face for their conduct,” he added. “By adopting policies that are soft on crime and by filling upper management positions in his administration with attorneys from the Public Defender’s office, Gascón has effectively adopted the role of a second Public Defender. We need a District Attorney — not a Public Defender — to ensure the safety of the people.”

David S. Milton

Industry, CA, Wednesday, October 2023 -David S. Milton at the Los Angeles District Attorney candidates forum at Pacific Palms Resort. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Milton, a retired L.A. County Superior Court Judge who served on the bench from 1995 until 2014, is also running on a platform to reverse Gascón’s policies and institute new public protection policies. “For more than three years, we’ve seen violence against innocent victims escalate and law and order protection collapse in Los Angeles County,” Milton said on his campaign’s website. Milton said the root problem “is our current district attorney. He only investigates or brings charges after embarrassing media coverage and enormous public pressure.” He added that the “role of the district attorney is to protect the public without waiting for the media to force him to do his job.” One of his top priorities is prosecuting suspects behind “smash-and-grab” robberies. “If elected, I will hire more deputy district attorneys to handle the caseload, properly charge ‘Smash & Grab’ theft as robberies so the criminals go to prison and properly charge crimes by illegal alien criminals so they can be deported, as they should be.”

Jeff Chemerinsky

Industry, CA, Wednesday, October 2023 – Jeff Chemerinsky at the Los Angeles District Attorney candidates forum at Pacific Palms Resort. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Chemerinsky, an assistant U.S. attorney who oversees federal prosecutions of violent crime cases in L.A., said voters have lost confidence in Gascón as both a prosecutor and reformer of the criminal justice system. On his campaign website, Chemerinsky said he wants to be a “voice for the working families of our community by prioritizing the prosecution of crimes that have an outsized impact on working people, such as environmental crime and wage theft.” Chemerinsky, who was appointed assistant U.S. Attorney in 2014, said his top priority is public safety. “(I will) prioritize the prosecution of gun crimes and firearm trafficking to keep our neighborhoods safe,’‘ Chemerinsky said. He added that he would use the role of D.A. to promote strong and sensible gun policies. Chemerinsky vows to prosecute “smash-and-grab” robberies to protect the public, workers and businesses. He stated that he’ll “ensure zero tolerance for public corruption,” and enhance the office’s civil rights prosecutions. Chemerinsky served as chief of the Violent and Organized Crime section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in L.A. until he stepped down in September to become a candidate.

Nathan Hochman

Industry, CA, Wednesday, October 2023 – Nathan Hochman at the Los Angeles District Attorney candidates forum at Pacific Palms Resort. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Hochman, a former U.S. assistant attorney general, is offering what he describes as a “blueprint for justice.” “I am shocked and disappointed at how our public safety has seriously worsened over the last three years under current D.A. George Gascón,” Hochman stated on his campaign website. “I am prepared to fight to restore it. My Blueprint for Justice outlines the changes I will make as your District Attorney to restore safety and justice to our county.”

Hochman said that under Gascón’s leadership, veteran prosecutors were stripped of their ability to file appropriate charges against violent, repeat offenders. As for part of his blueprint, Hochman vows to “restore the purpose of the District Attorney’s Office to fairly, effectively, and vigorously prosecute those who break laws in Los Angeles County based on the evidence and the law.” Hochman said he would also “restore the integrity and independence of the district attorney by not making decisions based on a party affiliation or political ideology but solely on the facts and the law.” His campaign points out that Hochman is running as an Independent. “I believe the D.A. needs to be fiercely independent and have encouraged all other candidates to do the same,” Hochman said.

Dan Kapelovitz

Kapelovitz, a criminal defense attorney, is the sole candidate aligning with Gascón’s more liberal stance. He said would continue battling mass incarceration and would propose stricter rules on when cases can be filed and bail can be requested. “We need well-funded programs — not more prisons,” Kapelovitz said on his campaign’s website. “I’m the only candidate who fights for indigent defendants every day. I’m also the only candidate appointed by the Court to protect the constitutional rights of crime victims who are often further victimized by the system.” He said he would ensure equal treatment for everyone and reject ‘racist policies’ that fuel mass incarceration. “People should not lose their homes and jobs because they cannot afford bail. We will not seek bail without clear and convincing evidence that the accused is dangerous,” he said.

Most of the challengers have said they will reverse the sweeping policy changes Gascón enacted on his first day in office. Gascón, despite all the criticism, was able to fend off two recall attempts. During a debate last
month with nine of the 11 challengers, Gascón defended his directives. “We have seen crime coming down not only in our community, but we’re seeing crime going down nationwide, at the same time that we have continued with the reform efforts,” Gascón said. “We’re showing that not only we cannot go back to the way that we did business, but actually the fact is our reforms are good for public safety.” If, as expected, no candidate receives a majority, the top two finishers will meet in a runoff Nov. 5, like all nonpartisan races on the primary ballot.

Source: NBC Los Angeles

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