The union representing Los Angeles County deputy district attorneys sued District Attorney George Gascón on Wednesday to stop him from dropping sentence enhancements and other dramatic changes that have defied state law according to rank-and-file prosecutors.

The lawsuit, filed in Superior Court, is the most public expression of backlash against Gascón within his own office since being sworn in Dec. 7.

The union has requested a court order to compel Gascón to repeal his special directives, declaring them “invalid and illegal.”

“Respondent George Gascón, within weeks of his investiture as Los Angeles County’s District Attorney, has issued special directives that are not merely radical but plainly unlawful,” Eric M. George, who is representing the union’s 800 deputy prosecutors, wrote in the lawsuit.

The union is also seeking a temporary restraining order barring Gascón’s administration from carrying out his directives.

A spokesperson from Gascón’s office declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Gascón announced on his first day in office that his deputies are no longer allowed to seek enhancements that could lengthen defendants’ prison sentences under certain circumstances, such as committing a crime for the benefit of a gang benefit, bail and firearms violations, or any other prior criminal history. The new DA also told prosecutors not to bring charges under the state’s Three Strikes Sentencing Initiative.

The union argues that prosecutors should pursue or forgo sentencing enhancements on a case-by-case basis which takes into account circumstances of a crime and a defendant, not “rubber stamp blanket prosecutorial policies barring the wholesale enforcement of criminal laws,” according to the suit.

A trio of legal experts from Northern California, UC Berkeley School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, came out Tuesday against the union’s move, saying in a joint statement that they are “confident this attempt to obstruct the will of the voters will be struck down.”

The union’s “concern over striking enhancements is inconsistent with their decades-long silence when former district attorneys often dismissed enhancements and three-strikes allegations in the interests of justice,”  Chemerinsky said in a statement cosigned by Stanford Law School professor David Mills and Michael Romano, director of Stanford Law School’s Three Strikes Project. “That the association now claims the practice to be unlawful is more reflective of their longstanding opposition to reform and the will of millions of Angelenos than it is the legality of D.A. Gascón’s directives. D.A. Gascón’s policies will enhance health and safety in Los Angeles and begin a much needed process to reduce epidemic levels of mass incarceration.”

Gascón defeated two-term incumbent Jackie Lacey in an expensive and closely contested campaign in the November election.

The 66-year-old Gascón is a retired Los Angeles police officer who served as both police chief and district attorney for San Francisco. Both appointments were made by California Governor and former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

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The case is Association of Deputy District Attorneys v. Gascón, L.A. Super. Ct. filed Dec. 29, 2020

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