George Gascon, longtime Republican

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Charles Russo

One thing I didn’t know when I wrote about former police chief George Gascón's shocking Jan. 9 appointment as San Francisco’s next district attorney is that he has Republican roots. But then I came across a January 10 Los Angeles Times article that revealed that in 2008, Gascón described himself to the L.A. Times “as a longtime Republican.”

Gascón is now registered as “decline-to-state” but his Republican leanings could become an issue in the D.A.’s race this November, depending on what happens between now and then, in terms of decisions Gascón makes, especially around cases the San Francisco Police Department refer to his new office.

Paul Henderson, who was D.A. Kamala Harris’ chief of staff before she won the Attorney General’s race, was rumored to be Harris’ preferred choice as her replacement. But he now finds himself in the awkward position of reporting to the man he will be running against this fall.

“I respect Gascón as a law enforcement officer and I appreciate that he called me personally to inform me of the mayor’s decision,” Henderson told me. “D.A. Gascón and I will be discussing next steps and I stand ready to help him address the pressing issues facing the office.”

Henderson said the atmosphere over at the D.A.’s office is “a little crazy these days.”

“Everyone is trying to figure out what is going to happen,” Henderson said.  “All of this happened out of the blue, out of left field.”

Or right field, if you consider Gascón’s former voter registration.

“I think a lot of people were expecting something and someone different,” Henderson observed. “That’s the reality and the truth. I know I have a lot of support, but I need a little time to weigh and evaluate things.”

Political consultant Jim Stearns told the Guardian that he believes Gascón and Newsom when they say Newsom’s offer of the post to Gascón was a spur-of-the-moment decision

“I know for a fact that [Board President] David Chiu was offered the D.A. position and that Chiu and Newsom were genuinely confused about whether Chiu was going to take it or not,” Stearns said. “Chiu had discussed it at length a long time ago and rejected the notion. But then, when the offer was actually made, he said ‘I don’t know’ for a few days. Then, when he turned it down, the Mayor’s Office was in a quandary. So, I think Newsom was trying to pull a rabbit out of the hat, but this is one of those appointments that you might not make, if you really thought about it.”

As Stearns notes, Gascón had only been SFPD Chief for 18 months, and before that he was chief in Mesa, Arizona, which as Stearns puts it, “is not what you’d call a big city.”

And while Gascón, who was former high-ranking official in the Los Angeles Police Department, has since scored high marks for reducing violent crime, there were a lot of issues between SFPD and the D.A.’s office during his tenure, leaving him at risk of being accused of conflict of interest in his new role.

Perhaps the biggest of these conflicts is the question of police misconduct, which became a political hot potato during the Attorney General’s race, when attention was brought to a law that’s been on the books since 1963, when the Supreme Court ruled in Brady vs. Maryland that the government has a duty to disclose material evidence to the defense which could tend to change the outcome of the trial.

In 1972, "Brady" was expanded to require District Attorneys to turn over any information that could impeach the credibility or veracity of a police officer's testimony, or if an officer has a past record of falsifying reports or other conduct that could impact their truthfulness. But it turned out that San Francisco had never formalized a "Brady" policy. It's true that Gascón as SFPD Chief requested that searches be done as far back as 1980 for any sustained discipline actions that could be interpreted as possible "Brady" issues, but his move to D.A. raises the issue afresh.

“What better way to keep a lid on it,” Stearns opined.

So far, the D.A.’s office has not released a statement on how Gascón intends to handle potential conflicts of interests, but I’ll update this post, if it does.

Stearns speculates that part of the decision to appoint Gascón was a result of the foot-dragging that went on as a result of Chiu’s indecision, allowing lots of competing camps to canvass for their preferred picks.

“The Gettys were pushing Bock,” Stearns said, referring to Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Sharmin Bock, an expert in human trafficking. “Others were pushing for [Assistant D.A.] Andy Clark, Paul Henderson, and [Deputy City Attorney] Sean Connelly [who represented the city in police excessive force cases].”

Other names floated were Chief Assistant District Attorney David Pfeifer, David Onek, senior fellow at the Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice; and San Francisco attorney John Keker.

“Newsom may have concluded that if he pushed for any of these folks, he’d be taking sides, and that if he went for Gascón, he wouldn’t be pissing anyone off,” Stearns said.

But now it seems the whole law enforcement world in San Francisco is in an uproar, as folks start to try and figure out how the appointment impacts the D.A.’s race in November.

‘The politics of a D.A.’s office is unique,” Stearns observed. “You can be thrown a curve ball at any moment. You never know what crime is going to be committed, and all of a sudden you have to make a decision that can impact the race.”

Stearns notes that Gascón has some positives going for him.
“He has fairly well-known name recognition, he had good grades, mostly, from the mainstream press for the work he has done as police chief, and it sounds like he is a pretty good manager and administrator.”

On the downside, there’s his statement that he’s “not philosophically opposed to the death penalty,” and the latest shocker that he’s been a longtime Republican.

And then there are the vagaries of running for elected office under San Francisco's instant run-off voting (IRV) system.
“He could end up like Don Perata,” Stearns said, referring to Perata’s recent loss to Jean Quan in the race for Oakland mayor. “He could have the most money, the most endorsements and even the most votes, but no second and third place votes, and therefore he loses. But that depends on who else is going to run against him.”

Calls to David Onek, who filed in the D.A.’s race last summer and has already raised over $130,000 and collected a ton of endorsements, went unreturned, but if he gets back, I’ll be sure to post his comments here.

And as Henderson previously stated, he doesn’t plan to make any decisions until he has a substantive conversation with Gascón.

“Paul is pretty anti-death penalty, but like Gascón he came out in favor of sit-lie,” Stearns said, noting that Gascón may not feel he has to actively campaign to win in November.

“It’s a shock to the system what you have to go through to campaign in this city, especially if you believe in authority and hierarchy, and all of a sudden you have to go to every Democratic Club in town and listen to everyone’s questions and comments. But he sounds pretty serious about running, and I certainly believe that every election is competitive, so it remains to be seen what kind of candidate Gascón is and the deals he makes”.

Comments

It is not so simple. Someone writes that the job of a District Attorney is to "put people away" or "put the 'bad guys' away. The American Bar Association has formally stated that actually the job of a District Attorney is simply..."To do Justice" and the California Penal Code also simply states that the job of a District Attorney is "to do justice." There is an implication in those statements that the DA also has a duty to an arrestee/defendant.
Also there were comments that often police or media or the public complain about decisions that DA's make to plea bargain or to dismiss cases...etc.
Read below...what one experienced District Attorney has to say about that:
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Here is another way to look at some of the issues/criticisms mentioned in comments:
A previous writer mentioned that in her opinion "some" in law enforcement feel that they make arrests and then, supposedly, "nothing??" happens

Here is what a well-known, popular District Attorney running for re-election wrote about the same criticism:
{And in fact, every District Attorney that I have ever known will tell you the same thing}:

""Prosecutors, on the other hand, don't get a case until after the action has died down, Burke noted. That gives them latitude to step back and consider the complex set of factors that govern whether prosecution is just. They also have to look at whether they can prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt at trial, a tougher standard than police probable cause, he said.""
"One of the toughest parts of a prosecutor's job, Segrest said, is having to tell a police officer who is invested in a case that it won't proceed.

I've had to tell a lot of people I really like no, he said. You don't get any thanks, don't get any appreciation if you don't win or you don't prosecute. Then you're the biggest idiot in the world.
Segrest added, however, that he is willing to listen to officers who disagree with case decisions. For years, he has encouraged those who have a beef to call him or the prosecutor who handled the case, he said.

Quite honestly, nobody takes me up on it, Segrest said. It's easier to say it's the old, lazy prosecutor who won't do his job.
""The officers who tend to get the most upset are the patrol officers, the chief said. Unlike detectives, they are not usually privy to what happens with a case after the initial call. So where a detective might be aware of a problem that necessitates a case being tossed, it comes as a surprise to the patrol officer.""
They're just kind of more out of the loop, Stroman said.

AND THE STATS for that or nearby jurisdictions where charges against defendants were dismissed, reduced, or had some much lesser outcome:
Local prosecutors either refused or dismissed 50.3 percent of felony charges during 2006-08. For misdemeanor cases, there was a 39.7 dismissal/refusal rate, and for all cases combined, it was 43 percent.
By comparison, during the same three years:
* Prosecutors in Jefferson County, home to Beaumont and Port Arthur, refused or dismissed 45.7 percent of felonies, 40.4 percent of misdemeanors and 42.2 percent of all cases combined.
* Prosecutors in Wichita County, where Wichita Falls is the county seat, refused or dismissed 46.3 percent of cases with felonies and misdemeanors combined. Data were not available broken down by felony versus misdemeanor.
Nationwide, a handful of studies on particular jurisdictions have shown that nonfederal prosecutors discard roughly 25 percent to 50 percent of cases without filing formal charges. The total number of cases not pursued in those jurisdictions would be even higher once dismissals were added in.

Posted by Guest George Shieman on Aug. 20, 2011 @ 10:57 pm