Group aims to harness anger over crime to oust LA prosecutor

Jul 6, 2022, 3:05 AM | Updated: 6:40 pm
Supporters of a campaign to recall Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon gather outsid...

Supporters of a campaign to recall Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon gather outside the Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters on Wednesday, July 6, 2022, in Norwalk, Calif. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

(AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles County’s progressive prosecutor could be tossed from office like his counterpart in San Francisco after opponents on Wednesday said they submitted more than enough petition signatures to qualify for an election to recall District Attorney George Gascón, who they say is soft on crime.

The campaign spent about $8 million to gather 717,000 signatures they delivered by truck to the Los Angeles Registrar for verification. Even if 20% of signatures are invalidated, which has been typical in California recall efforts, the number would still exceed the required 567,000. That figure reflects 10% of registered voters in the nation’s most populous county.

Tim Lineberger, a spokesman for the recall campaign, said they’ll succeed if they can get the measure before voters.

“I wouldn’t say it’s in the bag or we’ll be complacent, but as far as public opinion is concerned, George Gascón is toast,” he said.

If certified, the election would be the latest in a string of recalls in California that have mostly targeted progressives in a state known for its liberal streak. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom was one of the few survivors, winning by a large margin in September.

Last month, San Francisco voters frustrated with a rash of property crimes, including brazen shoplifting caught on video and attacks against Asian American people, drove District Attorney Chesa Boudin, a former public defender, from office. The vote came after a special election that ousted three San Francisco school board members in February.

Gascón, a former San Francisco police chief who then became DA in that city, won office in Los Angeles in November 2020 as part of a wave of progressive prosecutors elected nationwide.

He ran on a criminal justice reform platform after a summer of unrest following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Gascón vowed not to seek the death penalty, not to prosecute juveniles as adults or seek cash bail. He said he’d be tougher than his predecessor, Jackie Lacey, the first woman and Black person to run the office, when it came to prosecuting police who killed someone in the line of duty.

But Gascón immediately ran into problems running the nation’s largest local prosecutor’s office when he told deputies they shouldn’t seek longer prison sentences for repeat felons and those carrying guns, among many other changes that were seen as soft on crime. They sued and won a court order to reverse some of his policies.

An initial effort to recall him began almost immediately but quickly sputtered when supporters didn’t gather enough signatures.

The most recent effort, however, has been far more successful and received overwhelming support from the union representing 800 of his office’s roughly 1,000 prosecutors. It may have earned additional support after two El Monte police officers were slain by a felon free on probation last month.

Gascón defended the plea deal that sent the convicted burglar and car thief to jail for 20 days and then placed him on probation. While the man could have been sent to prison for three years, he had no history of violence and the nature of the offense didn’t warrant prison time, the DA said.

Gascón has said the effort to bounce him has been fueled by right wing donors, though it also includes people who have lost family members to violence who are upset with or fear the outcome of their court cases.

On Wednesday, some of those victims were among a couple dozen recall supporters who gathered outside the registrar’s office in Norwalk office as the petitions were dropped off. One man propped up a sign saying “Victims Before Killers.” Another held a sign saying, “Bye Bye George.”

Aurora Carlos, whose son, Benjamin Salvidres, was killed last year, doesn’t think her family will receive justice under Gascón.

“Gascon needs to go,” she said. “If not for my son’s case, for everyone else’s case.”

Historically, about 20% of signatures for recall campaigns are thrown out because someone who signed the petition wasn’t registered to vote or provided an incorrect address, said Joshua Spivak, a Senior Research Fellow at Berkeley Law’s California Constitution Center and author of a book on recall elections. That means they would need about 680,000 signatures to have the cushion needed.

If it does qualify for the ballot, history is on the side of the recall supporters, Spivak said. About 60% of recalls that made the ballot nationwide have succeeded.

Gascón criticized the signature-gathering process, in which people are paid as much as $15 for each signature they collect. He said some of those people use sleazy tactics to get voters to sign the petition even when they know little about the people they’re trying to push out of office.

Gascón said he was approached by a person at Costco collecting signatures for his ouster who asked if he wanted to get the rapists out of his neighborhood. The man, who said he was from Florida, didn’t realize who Gascón was.

“It’s a very mercenary approach,” Gascón said. “Most people think that they’re all volunteers who care about their community and there’s a number of those, don’t get me wrong. But the bulk of signatures are being collected by ways that are extremely misleading.”

If the recall is approved, voters could decide Gascón’s fate during the general election in November or mid-December or mid-January, said Mike Sanchez, a spokesman for the registrar. Voters would choose whether to recall Gascón and would then pick from a slate of candidates hoping to replace him. If more than 50% vote to oust him, the replacement candidate with the most votes would be the next DA.

Gascón said he was confident he would survive any recall attempt.

“Much like we saw what happened with the governor’s race,” he said. “They got the signatures to put him on the ballot and then they lost miserably and I fully suspect that that will be the same thing here.”

___

Associated Press journalist Eugene Garcia contributed to this report from Norwalk.

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Group aims to harness anger over crime to oust LA prosecutor