Members of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office who are former deputy public defenders are asking a court for greater protection from threats they say they have received as witnesses during hearings on appeals by other prosecutors who maintain they were wrongfully passed over for promotions by the hirings of the transferees.
The petition was brought Thursday, Aug. 25, in Los Angeles County Superior Court by the District Attorney’s Office against the county Civil Service Commission, asking that ongoing hearings on the appeals be stayed until the current legal action is decided. The petitioners also want future commission proceedings closed to the public and court papers sealed and they are asking for a court hearing no later than Sept. 16.
“Since the transfer of the former deputy public defenders/current district attorneys, several of petitioners’ witnesses have received intense media scrutiny, have been the recipient of threats of physical harm, experienced physical intimidation and been relentlessly harassed online,” the petition states.
An attorney for the Association of Deputy District Attorneys, which is advocating on behalf of the appellants, could not be immediately reached. Last Oct. 12, the union brought its own petition seeking to stop District Attorney George Gascón from transferring deputy public defenders to the District Attorney’s Office.
Less than a month later, Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff denied the union’s request for a preliminary injunction, finding that the ADDA should explore all its internal options before asking for help from the courts. Subsequently, 11 deputy district attorneys filed appeals with the Civil Service Commission, alleging that Gascón transferred the former deputy public defenders to his office in violation of a Civil Service rule.
The appellants allege that their failure to be promoted for positions for which they were eligible was based solely on their political affiliation and their refusal to be active Gascón campaign donors and supporters. Their petition is scheduled for hearing Sept. 21.
One former appellant, Deputy District Attorney Daniel J. Kinney, withdrew his case, according to the Gascón petition.
The former deputy public defenders who were transferred to the District Attorney’s Office are Tiffiny Blacknell, Shelan Joseph, Gregory Apt, John Perroni, and Nancy Theberge. One former deputy public defender, Alisa Blair, has since left the county, in part due to the alleged ongoing harassment, the Gascón petition states.
On May 25, the Civil Service Commission began hearings on all the appeals and the hearing officer allowed the Gascón advocates to call all of the transferees as witnesses, according to the Gascón petition. Gregory Apt took the stand July 11 and during the session, a lawyer for the union “attempted to probe into confidential topics such as case specific strategy involving grand juries,” the Gascón petition states.
To ease the transferees’ fear of testifying in open court due to alleged ongoing harassment, they asked for closed proceedings, the Gascón petition states. The motion for closed proceedings was filed concurrently with a sworn declaration from Tiffiny Blacknell, one of the witnesses facing constant harassment, the Gascón petition states.
Hours later, a member of the opposing side posted the entire motion as well as Blacknell’s declaration on his Facebook page, including photos of Blacknell’s children, the Gascon petition alleges. Several comments flowed from the posting that “further incited physical danger and included physical threats to these individuals,” the Gascón petition states.
As a result of the Facebook post and the response it received from the public, the second intended declarant asked that the sworn statement not be filed until further protections were provided, according to the Gascón petition. The hearing officer later permitted the second declaration to be filed and told the appellants’ lawyer not to provide the document to third parties, according to the Gascón petition.
On Aug. 5, Gascón lawyers filed a declaration from transferee Joseph describing an alleged violent incident “brought onto her home because of false information being disclosed to the media from other district attorneys,” the Gascón petition states. Nonetheless, the hearing officer denied a motion by the Gascón lawyers to close the commission hearings and stay the proceedings pending the outcome of the current legal action, according to the Gascón petition.
The hearing officer’s decision not to put the proceedings on hold has put the transferees and their advocates “in an impossible position where presenting the witnesses for testimony in open hearings would expose those witnesses to likely harm and certain harassment,” the Gascón petition states.
On the other hand, withholding the transferee witnesses to ensure their safety will likely result in an adverse decision by the hearing officer, according to the Gascón petition, which further states that the appellants’ interests will not be negatively impacted by closing the commission proceedings when they resume Sept. 19.