It was recently reported that Deputy District Attorney Jon Hatami has formally accused newly elected District Attorney George Gascón of discrimination for, among other things, comments he made during an interview with Crime Story.
Having reviewed the filing documents, we would like to clarify for our readers the timeline of events and the erroneous representations in Hatami’s claim.
The claim, filed February 8, 2021 states, “On October 27, 2020, in a televised and recorded interview, Gascón said on Crime Story, ‘Some people will be unhappy and like either become internal terrorists or they’ll leave. And I know certainly how to deal with both.’”
The claim then continues: “This racially infused comment about “internal terrorists” was directed at Claimant, who is part Iranian and whose father is Muslim.”
Brian Claypool, on behalf of his client, Hatami, filed the Claim for Damages to Person or Property with the Board of Supervisors for Los Angeles County, an opening salvo in a lawsuit that “will include causes of action for defamation, including libel per se, racial discrimination, retaliation, hostile work environment and intentional infliction of emotional distress.” (You can find a copy of the full Claim here.)
The filing alleges that Deputy District Attorney Jon Hatami has been the subject of hostile and defamatory language directed at him by newly elected District Attorney George Gascón and his employees.
There are a number of factual problems with the statement:
The interview with George Gascón was conducted during the primary campaign for L.A. District Attorney on February 12, 2020 and was initially released in two parts on February 18 and 19 in the run up to the March 2 primary election.
When Larry Krasner, for example, went into Philadelphia, he established a policy where he evaluated which prosecutors were on board for the reforms he was implementing and let go of those prosecutors who weren’t going to line up behind these policies. How did you approach prosecutors in the DA’s office in San Francisco, who either were not willing to line up behind your policies or who opposed them?
Yeah, I mean, look I took a more deliberate approach. And by the way, Larry Krasner, our friends, Larry spent time in my office before he became DA. And then after he became DA, his personnel spent a lot of time in San Francisco. San Francisco became an incubator for progressive prosecutors. But based on my many years of experience managing large organizations, and frankly working in organization with very strong civil service protections, which Philadelphia did not have, and San Francisco was hybrid. But I came from LAPD where if you want to move somebody, you have to go through a more rigorous process. I went in with a different approach, I took an approach, so very clearly the direction that we were going to go, and I gave people an opportunity to sign up for it. And now the people that didn’t sign up for it, then they started deselecting themselves or sometimes we encouraged them to leave and make sure that they did.
But it was a more gradual process, and I think it was important because I came also in the office that two DA’s prior had a former defense lawyer, not a public defender, but a former defense lawyer who came in and there was a bloodbath, a lot of people were let go. And most of them, quite frankly, were let go because they had supported the opponent, so it was really more of a political firing, which is a problem. In my case, because I came in actually having been a supporter or Kamala Harris, and so it was a more gradual approach for me. But the reality is that probably within a year, a year and a half, a lot of people left and I was able to bring in a lot of new people. And certainly the management team, by and large, I created both from within but also from outside.
So for instance, my chief of staff was a former LA public defender, and people at first say, “You’re bringing a public defender into the DA’s office?” And I say, “Yes and why? Well, because I want to have somebody that has done the other side of the equation because I benefit from the robust conversation in my inner circle.” Right? I often tell people that the last thing that you want to be, you don’t want to be the emperor walking naked, right? You want people that are going to push back, that are going to question, I believe that good public policy, well good management and leadership, comes from having constantly people questioning one another.
So I was always looking not only for diversity of gender and race, but also diversity of thinking, and I think that I’ve benefited greatly from that process. But the reality, within a period of time, people that are not going to sign up, they were going to leave. Now, I’m not going to tell you that everybody was always 100%, and clearly there were some hardcore prosecutors there that probably wish that I was not around, but we were able to achieve a great deal of reform and we did it in a way that it worked better for San Francisco.
And I think Larry also came into a very difficult place, because he came into a place where his predecessor had been incarcerated for corruption, and there were people in that administration that also were engaged in corruption. So I did not have that, right? So Larry came in, obviously with a very different set of circumstances, not only as to what was going on inside the office, but also what he needed to achieve. I tell people that a lot of this stuff, there is not always a right or wrong. I mean there are some things are clearly wrong, some things that are clearly right, but there’s a lot of gray and you have to be really thoughtful about how you do a transition in the organization.
Frankly, if I were to get elected DA in LA, again, it’s a different set of scenarios, where you have now full civil service across the board, right? So your lawyers and everybody has full civil service, so obviously the approach to shifting the culture within the organization will be different. But that doesn’t mean that we’re not going to shift the culture, we will, and some people will be unhappy and like they’ll either become internal terrorists or they’ll leave. And I know certainly how to deal with both.
Crime Story did republish the interview on October 27, in advance of the November 3 general election between Gascón and incumbent DA Jackie Lacey, but there was no new material from Gascón in that interview. Furthermore, contrary to the claim’s statement, the interview was never televised, and only appeared in podcast and transcript form.
In the context of the interview, Gascón appeared to have no one specifically in mind when he made the comment, and was in fact addressing how his experience in San Francisco and Larry Krasner’s experience in Philadelphia might impact the way that one deals with members of a prosecutor’s office who resist a reform agenda. The notion that the comment “was directed at [Hatami], who is part Iranian and whose father is Muslim” seems to have no basis in fact, and no evidence is offered by Hatami or Claypool that Gascon even knew of Hatami in February of 2020.
Moreover, the Deputy District Attorney corps was aware of Gascón’s remarks as early as April of 2020. On April 5, I interviewed Eric Siddall, the Vice President of the Los Angeles Association of Deputy District Attorney’s who made reference to them in offering his opinion of Gascón. Here’s what he said at the time:
I think one of the things that has been really interesting about this whole COVID crisis is that people are once again really starting to respect expertise and Gascón is not an expert on how cases are prosecuted. He’s just not. He’d never had to do it and I don’t think he really gets it. I don’t think he understands our job and he’s just not fit to be DA. I had to tell you, I was really struck in your interview with Gascón when he talked about internal terrorists.
Yeah. I think you were talking about-
I know exactly what part of the interview you’re talking about and when he was talking about working in San Francisco and his approach to working in LA.
Yeah, I think you were asking about the fact that there’s civil service protection. He said, something like either those people will leave or they’ll act as internal terrorists and I know how to deal with both of those types of people. I was like, “Wow. That is just…” It was kind of shocking to hear that.
I didn’t find it shocking because I can imagine, he’s a reform oriented administrator and particularly if someone’s a real old school hard-ass conservative and they’re going to try to undermine his policies using the term terrorist is probably a bit stronger than I might use, but I can understand the perspective. It’s what people deal with in bureaucracies all the time. I imagine the President uses even stronger words than that.
I know, I guess that’s the problem. One of the reasons why we have these types of civil service protection is that you want these professionals running things and you want continuity and you want people to be able to exercise judgment. And the kind of thinking that if everyone’s judgment is not in align with yours is that somehow they’re insurgents that’s part of the deep state, it’s troubling when someone starts using that type of language. It’s irresponsible. That’s why Trump is irresponsible, because he doesn’t have respect for the civil servants who work in government or the press. You’re not a terrorist just because you oppose someone.
In the Claim filed on February 8, Hatami made a number of other claims related to comments allegedly made by Gascón and his associate Max Szabo, characterizing them as “harassment” and “retaliatory conduct” aimed at him. Crime Story makes no assessment as to the veracity or accuracy of those allegations. However, given that our work was the basis of the first allegation in the complaint, we felt compelled to set the record straight.
We reached out to Hatami’s attorney Brian Claypool through Claypool’s publicist and through his law offices and we did not receive a reply.
Here is the claim Claypool filed on behalf of Hatami with the L.A. Board of Supervisors.