Two veteran Los Angeles County prosecutors have filed a lawsuit alleging they were demoted from their positions as bureau directors in retaliation for complaining about District Attorney George Gascón.
Head deputies Maria Ramirez and Victor Rodriguez are seeking undisclosed damages for lost wages, overtime pay and pension benefits.
“Both plaintiffs were subjected to retaliation in the form of removal from their positions as bureau directors and demoted to the positions of head deputy because they disclosed and/or refused to take actions that they reasonably believed were violations of law,” the suit states.
The District Attorney’s Office on Tuesday, March 8, declined to comment on the suit, which was filed Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court.
Ramirez previously served as director of the Bureau of Specialized Prosecutions while Rodriguez was in charge of one bureau and partially responsible for another in eastern Los Angeles County.
Both Ramirez and Rodriguez have been employed by the District Attorney’s Office for more than 30 years, were in positions of “high authority” with regular access to Gascón, and aspired for promotions to assistant district attorney, the suit states.
While leading the Specialized Prosecution Bureau, Ramirez supervised 260 deputy district attorneys assigned to major crimes, sex crimes, community violence reduction, family violence, crimes against peace officers and juvenile divisions. In September 2021, Ramirez was demoted to head deputy of target crimes, where she supervises 11 employees.
Ramirez alleges her demotion came after complaining that Gascón’s directive to substantially change the way juvenile crimes are prosecuted is unlawful. Specifically, the directive mandated Ramirez use alternate prosecution theories that minimized a juvenile’s criminal conduct, no matter how violent, which did not accurately reflect the true offense, says the suit.
“In essence, plaintiff was directed not to file ‘strike’ (enhancement) offenses against juveniles, and this Directive creates a false and misleading description to the court of the crimes that was/were actually committed,” the complaint states.
The directive also allegedly prohibited Ramirez from filing sentencing enhancements against juveniles for egregious violent conduct or for offenses that involved more than one victim.
“Plaintiff was forced to randomly select only one victim and charge one crime pertaining to that chosen victim,” the lawsuit says. “Plaintiff raised concerns that at trial, if the randomly chosen victim was not available and the case not therefore provable, the case could be dismissed, and the juvenile would have no accountability. All these filings would constitute fraud on the court and, among other things, violate plaintiff’s ethical and prosecutorial obligations under the law.”
Ramirez also complained Gascón’s juvenile justice directive is illegal because it violates California’s Marsy’s Law, otherwise known as the Victims’ Bill of Rights, by refusing to permit input from victims’ families into the decision not to try juvenile defendants as adults, according to the suit.
“Plaintiff Ramirez personally brought to the attention of George Gascón and others in his administration an unethical and unlawful disposition of a case through a backroom deal that shortened the life sentence of a murderer to a seven-year prison term,” the complaint says.
Rodriguez supervised about 400 employees as a bureau director before he was demoted in September 2021 to head deputy of the Alhambra branch office.
On March 3, 2021, Gascón invited Rodriguez to a private Zoom meeting to discuss the possible prosecution of police officers involved in a shooting that killed two people, according to the lawsuit.
Also participating in the meeting were Anna Kozma, a confidential assistant to Gascón who at the time was a first-year law student, along with special advisers Alisa Blair and Tiffiny Blacknell, who had previously worked for the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office.
After a presentation that showed no inconsistencies in the statements by the officers and witnesses claiming that the suspect reached for a gun, Gascon opened the meeting for suggestions, according to the suit.
Rodriguez was appalled by the discussions during the meeting.
“Ms. Kozma, who is not an attorney, voiced that ‘I am ready to convict the officers,’ ” the suit alleges. “Ms. Blair stated the officers should be prosecuted ‘because too many African-Americans have been killed by police officers.’ Ms. Blacknell opined that the officers should at least be charged with ‘voluntary manslaughter.’ “
Rodriguez reportedly told the group that while he wasn’t opposed to investigating further, at the time there was not probable cause to file charges because there was no specific facts to support the allegations.
After the meeting, Gascón reportedly complained to his then chief of staff that management “followed the law too much.”
“A fitting comment by a district attorney who has never practiced law, and an explanation as to why plaintiff Rodriguez and others were demoted,” the suit states.
In addition to Ramirez and Rodriguez, Shawn Randolph, former head deputy for the Juvenile Division, and Lesley Klein Sonnenberg, former assistant head deputy of the Family Violence Division, filed retaliation lawsuits last year against Gascón for complaining about his policies.
The pair claim Gascón banished them to offices where they have less high-profile assignments and little chance of promotion.
©2022 MediaNews Group, Inc. Visit ocregister.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
This content is published through a licensing agreement with Acquire Media using its NewsEdge technology.