Former Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley and roughly a dozen former prosecutors announced Monday they have teamed up to provide pro bono representation to victims and their families who are being affected by District Attorney George Gascon’s new directives.
The group says victims have reached out asking the former prosecutors to appeal to judges not to dismiss sentencing enhancements as requested by Gascon, who took office last month, and his team.
“There are a variety of rules and rights victims have under the California Constitution, and we are doing everything we can to ensure that these rights and not being trampled on by the unethical and frankly illegal blanket directives George Gascon has implemented,” the group said in a statement.
The lawyers say instituting a one-size-fits-all plan to eliminate sentencing enhancements is indefensible.
“What Gascon is doing is not only unethical but in many cases illegal. In order to dismiss a case in the `interests of justice,’ there must be an articulable interest of justice and (it) cannot simply be a blanket policy,” their statement reads.
Gascon’s office declined to comment when contacted by City News Service.
Cooley served as LA County district attorney from 2000 to 2012. He was succeeded by Jackie Lacey, who served as LA County DA from Dec. 2012 to Dec. 2020.
The former prosecutors highlighted a case in court Monday involving the June 10, 2019 fatal shootings of Los Angeles County sheriff’s Deputy Joseph Gilbert Solano in Alhambra and Dmitry Alekseyevich Koltsov in downtown Los Angeles.
Rhett Nelson is charged with two counts of murder in that case, along with a special circumstance allegation and enhancements that would allow a judge to sentence him to life in prison without the possibility of parole if he is convicted.
A judge Monday denied the prosecution’s motion to dismiss the special circumstance allegation and enhancements. During the same hearing, the judge said he would allow San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan to retake jurisdiction to try Nelson on charges involving five San Diego-area armed robberies, originally turned over to L.A. prosecutors. Stephan said she wanted the freedom to impose a stricter sentence if her office wins a conviction.
According to the victims’ rights lawyers, Nelson’s case is just one of five scheduled this week in Los Angeles County courts involving the murder of law enforcement officers.
Cooley told City News Service that he plans to appear with two other attorneys from the group on behalf of Sgt. Steve Owens’ widow at a hearing on Wednesday.
Trenton Trevon Lovell, of Lancaster, is charged with the execution- style killing of the 53-year-old deputy, who was shot five times outside a Lancaster apartment complex on Oct. 5, 2016. He was on parole at the time of the shooting.
The former district attorney is also representing the family of an elderly woman who was beaten to death.
Cooley characterizes himself as “just one among many” who are concerned with the effects of Gascon’s new policies and see a need to protect victims’ rights under Marsy’s Law. California voters approved Marsy’s Law in 2008 when they supported the California Victim’s’ Bill of Rights.
“There was a huge void created (with respect to) victims having a voice … the moment George Gascon issued his directives,” Cooley told CNS.