Steve Cooley on reforms by LA County DA George Gascón: 'Basically I disagree with virtually everything he's doing'

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Among Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón's staunchest opponents is former DA Steve Cooley, who led the office for three terms from 2000 to 2012.

"So basically I disagree with virtually everything he's doing," Cooley told ABC7.

Gascón was sworn in Monday and announced many sweeping, progressive reforms he campaigned on: from aiming to end money bail altogether, to no longer seeking sentence enhancements of any kind, including three strikes and gang enhancements. During his swearing in ceremony, Gascón said enhancements are directly tied to mass incarceration.

"Anyone who can read, can read the three strikes law and then uphold it," Cooley said. "He's throwing gang enhancements out the window. So, he's really giving a green light to gang members in Los Angeles County."

Backers of the new measures disagree.

"The notion that just because something is in the law, it has to be charged, it has to be prosecuted, and it has to be pursued to the maximum extent allowed is simply not how prosecutorial discretion works," said Miriam Krinsky, executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution.

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George Gascón, who became Los Angeles County's new district attorney Monday, announced sweeping changes including shifts away from the death penalty and cash bail.

Legal experts say it will take time to see how the directives that Gascón issued work in practice and their potential long-term effects.

"We won't know that overnight. Yes, there's a risk here," said Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School. "He believes that, in fact, it might make our society safer if we don't have all of these types of crimes and that we will be dealing instead with mental health issues and juvenile issues. So when will we see it? It's going to take a while to collect those statistics."

How the directives play out is nuanced. For example, prosecutors are the ones who've been asking for the enhancements. So, if they're not asking anymore, will there be as much eagerness by the bench to impose them? And will the judges impose them even if the prosecutor seeks to dismiss them? We don't know the answer to that until it comes up, and it may not be the same approach in every courthouse or for every judge.

Levenson said listening will be key.

"When you have such big changes, there are bound to be issues coming up all the time and adjustments that may need to be made," she said.
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