A veteran deputy district attorney is suing Los Angeles County, alleging he was demoted from his position in the sex crimes division to an inferior post for telling a judge that his office’s motion to dismiss the special circumstances in a case involving the killings of two children was not being done in the interests of justice.
Michael Matoba, a deputy district attorney 3, brought the retaliation suit Wednesday, June 1, in Los Angeles Superior Court, seeking unspecified damages. Matoba is the latest of several prosecutors to file suit over what they allege is disparate treatment received after being outspoken against District Attorney George Gascón‘s reform directives. A representative for the District Attorney’s Office did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
The District Attorney’s Office’s Sex Crimes Division is a highly specialized unit with coveted positions providing very good chances for office advancement, the suit states. Matoba was the lead attorney responsible for prosecuting the case of Kenneth Rasmuson, who had a long criminal record and was living outside California when he was linked through DNA evidence to the sexual abuse and killings of two 6-year-old children five years apart that occurred decades earlier.
The District Attorney’s Office under then-District Attorney Jackie Lacey filed special-circumstance allegations against Rasmuson. But in December 2020, Gascón issued a directive stating that the District Attorney’s Office would no longer seek the death penalty or life without parole under any circumstances, a policy that was changed by Gascón in February to allow life- without-parole sentences in some cases. Because special circumstance allegations had already been filed, Matoba was required under Gascón’s policy to file a motion and seek court approval for the dismissal of the special-circumstance allegations and to state that it was being done in the interests of justice, the suit states.
Matoba filed the motion to dismiss the special-circumstance allegations as directed, but stated that the dropping of the special- circumstance allegations was not in the interest of justice, according to the suit. Both Gascón and his chief of staff, Deputy District Attorney Joseph Iniguez, knew that Matoba and his co-counsel authored and filed the motion, the suit states. Matoba believed that by filing the motion to dismiss and informing the judge that the interests of justice were not being served by the dropping of the special-circumstance allegations, he was rejecting an unlawful office directive, according to the suit.
As a result of the motion filed by Matoba and the subsequent media attention, the Orange County District Attorney sought to transfer one of the murder counts to Orange County, the suit states. Matoba and Iniguez were present for the transfer hearing, during which Iniguez said he had wished the Orange County District Attorney had contacted him, then told the court that the parties had been working on a possible plea bargain for weeks, the suit states.
“Plaintiff disclosed to the court that the parties had only learned about a possible plea deal 15 minutes before the hearing, contradicting Iniguez’s false narrative to the court,” the suit states.
Matoba was transferred last October to handling elder abuse crimes, a position requiring nationwide travel and which is neither coveted nor likely to result in advancement or promotions, the suit states. Matoba believes that most or all of his eligible peers with whom he served with in line operations in the Sex Crimes Division have been promoted to deputy district attorney 4 positions, the suit states.
Rasmuson pleaded no contest to two counts of murder in February and was sentenced in April to life in prison without the possibility of parole.