Gascón loses retaliation case, a grim omen for the L.A. County D.A.

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón.
Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón faces more than a dozen civil claims. (Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press)

An L.A. County prosecutor on Monday was awarded $1.5 million in a retaliation lawsuit against Dist. Atty. George Gascón, who faces more than a dozen similar civil claims that could prove equally costly.

Shawn Randolph, the former head of the juvenile division of the district attorney's office, claimed she was shuttled off to the parole division for pushing back against some of Gascón's shifts to the handling of criminal cases involving minors, including his blanket ban on trying juveniles as adults.

Randolph's legal team, led by civil attorneys Greg Smith and Beth Corriea, argued that she believed Gascón's policies violated laws pertaining to victims' rights and that limitations on the types of felonies prosecutors could file against teens would lead them to bring charges that did not accurately represent the alleged conduct of certain defendants.

“We have a 30-year veteran complaining that there are ethical violations and Marsy’s Law violations, and you have an administration that wants their policies followed no matter what," Smith said during his opening statement.

Attorneys from the L.A. County counsel's office argued that Randolph did not suffer a demotion in rank or a pay cut, and her division change was part of a broad reshuffling of the district attorney's office that took place early in Gascón's tenure.

They also contended that Randolph was not engaging in protected speech because her assessment that Gascón's policies around juveniles were illegal was inaccurate. Although the policies have not been challenged in court, Gascón did amend his stance on trying juveniles as adults after facing heavy criticism for his handling of a few cases in which teens were accused of extreme and violent conduct.

"I'm grateful to have a forum where what's happening in the district attorney's office can be heard in a fair manner," Randolph said outside the courtroom, describing Gascón's conduct as an "epic failure" in leadership.

A representative for the county counsel's office declined to comment.

"We are disappointed by the jury's verdict and stand by our decision to reassign this and other attorneys to new positions within the office," Tiffiny Blacknell, chief spokeswoman for the district attorney's office, said in a statement. "As any manager will tell you, moving around personnel in order to improve the level of representation this community receives is absolutely critical to a functioning office."

Several prosecutors could be seen in the gallery in Department 14 of downtown L.A.'s Stanley Mosk Courthouse; when the verdict was read, one excitedly said, "Finally."

The verdict does not bode well for Gascón, who testified at the two-week trial and faces similar lawsuits from prosecutors who say they were reassigned or passed up for promotions after speaking out against his progressive policies. A number of people suing Gascón, including Victoria Adams, his former chief of staff, and Deputy Dist. Atty. Maria Ramirez, testified against him at Randolph's trial.

Ramirez is the first of what is expected to be a raft of challengers from inside the office who will attempt to unseat Gascón if he seeks reelection next year.

Eric Siddall — vice president of the union representing rank-and-file prosecutors, which has frequently sparred with Gascón — said there were as many as 16 other civil suits pending against the district attorney.

"We all know what George Gascón thinks about public service. He has called lifelong public servants 'internal terrorists.' And he treated them as such. He silenced their voices, he engaged in petty and vindictive acts of retaliation, and rewarded political loyalty instead of competency and professionalism," Siddall said in a statement. "Far worse, he did so at the expense of public safety. Today, jurors spoke out against Gascón's incompetence and condemned his illegal machinations."

Although Gascón handily defeated his predecessor, Jackie Lacey, to take office in 2020, his decisions to severely limit the use of sentencing enhancements, eradicate the use of the death penalty and all but end prosecutions of juveniles as adults have been deeply unpopular with rank-and-file prosecutors.

At least one retaliation claim against Gascón — filed by the former head deputy of the Compton branch court, Richard Doyle — has been settled by the county, also for a seven-figure sum.

Times staff writer Richard Winton contributed to this report.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.