A veteran Los Angeles County prosecutor berated his boss on Thursday, saying his progressive reforms and management style have alienated colleagues and turned the nation’s largest district attorney’s office into a “dumpster fire.”
In a lengthy letter to District Attorney George Gascon and his top aides, prosecutor Mark Burnley voiced a number of grievances on his final day with the office. Burnley said he had worked for the prosecutor’s office since 1999 and had been a prosecutor for 28 years.
“Until December 2020 I thought I had the best job in the world,” Burnley wrote, referring to when Gascon took over after ousting outgoing DA Jackie Lacey, in a letter obtained by PKB News Digital. “I am constantly amazed by the expertise and knowledge of the DDAs in this office. They are deeply dedicated and have a breathtaking experience. It’s a pity that you can’t or don’t want to recognize it.
In his letter, Burnley said he was told by a member of Gascon’s transition team before he took office that there would be no “dramatic” policy changes. The day before he was sworn in as county attorney general, Burnley was told otherwise, he said.
“Many of us hoped, like Mark Burnley, that George Gascon could run a government office. He made it clear from minute one of his administration that he couldn’t,” Eric Siddall, vice president of the Los Angeles County Assistant District Attorneys Association, told PKB News Digital in a statement.
“Nothing has changed since,” he added. “Gascon and his cronies made the management team of Southwest Airlines look like a bunch of managerial geniuses. Dedicated public servants are leaving office in record numbers. Interest in joining the office is at an all-time low. And the people of Los Angeles are paying the price. Burnley is right: skill matters.
Gascon has faced growing criticism over his progressive criminal justice policies, which some say empower criminals and fail to protect the rights of victims. As soon as he took office, he issued a number of directives, some of which were revised downwards. Policy changes include not charging juvenile suspects as adults and not charging criminal enhancements, among others.
It also repealed a long-standing policy of notifying victims of crime of upcoming parole hearings for those who harmed them or their loved ones, as well as barring a representative from the prosecutor’s office to attend these hearings on behalf of the victims.
In his letter, Burnley said he believed criminal justice reform was needed, such as alternative sentencing programs for some defendants as well as diversion programs for those convicted of misdemeanors and non-violent crimes.
“Fifteen minutes of basic legal research would have been more than enough to change the policies to comply with the law,” Burnley said. In a Zoom meeting hosted by Gascon, Burnley said his boss “showed a staggering lack of prosecution experience and knowledge. For example, you seemed completely unaware of the impact of your policies. on prosecutions for hate crimes and financial crimes.The combination of arrogance and inexperience was evident.
In addition to how his office views criminal justice, Gascon has also been accused of retaliation against his own prosecutors who publicly criticize him and point out flaws in his policies.
“You have also shattered the personal and professional lives of dozens of people who have decided to dedicate their legal training to public service,” Burnley wrote.
Several veteran prosecutors, including John McKinney, who won several high-profile cases and John Lewin, both of the Major Crimes Division, and Jason Lustig were moved to lower-level positions.
“Everything he (Burnley) wrote was completely accurate and, sadly, completely true,” Lewin told PKB News Digital. “From day one, George Gascon came into this, he had no experience as a line prosecutor. He had no desire to protect the public and he had no interest in trying to implement his policies intelligently and responsibly.
Lustig told PKB News Digital that Burnley was a highly regarded prosecutor who was absolutely right in his criticism.
“It captures the feeling of George Gascon trying to dismantle the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office,” he said. “He’s really trying to burn it down.”
PKB News Digital contacted Gascon’s office.
Despite the backlash, Gascon survived two recall attempts and withstood criticism from crime victims, law enforcement officials, fellow district attorneys and elected officials.
“I hope you show more humility and less arrogance for the rest of your term,” Burnley said. “What did you learn from the two recall efforts? It takes courage and integrity to conduct an honest self-assessment; I doubt you are up to the task.