Recalling a District Attorney

Although George Gascón ran as a “criminal justice reform” candidate for Los Angeles District Attorney, a great many people are surprised and horrified at how far he is going to dismantle sentencing in criminal cases. As a result, many people are asking whether and how a district attorney can be recalled. The short answer is yes, but the process cannot be officially started until early March, and it is going to take either a big pot of money or a large army of volunteers to gather signatures.

The power of the people to recall officials is provided in Article II, sections 13-19 of the California Constitution. Section 19 authorizes the Legislature to provide for recall of local officials, except for localities “whose charters provide for recall.” The Los Angeles County Charter does provide for recall in Article XI, but that article simply incorporates the provisions of the state statutes. So we are back to the statutes, though we came the long way around.

Any elected officer can be recalled. (Elections Code § 11006.) That includes district attorneys.

A notice of intention to recall is required, and it must state the reasons for the recall. (§ 11020.) However, that statement of reasons is solely for the information of the voters. No particular reasons are required, and no one but the voters can judge the sufficiency. (§ 11024.)

The first obstacle is that a recall may not be officially begun until 90 days after the person takes office. That is Sunday, March 7. (Elections Code § 11007(a).) In practice, that means Monday, March 8 is starting day.

After various paperwork requirements are completed, the organizers will have 160 days to collect signatures of at least 10% of the number of registered voters in Los Angeles County. (§§ 11220(a)(5), 11221(a)(5).) As of this writing, the Registrar reports 5,817,276 registered voters, so that comes to over 580,000 signatures.

This is a daunting task, to put it mildly. Even then, winning the subsequent election will require advertising to educate the voters on what Mr. Gascón’s policies mean in the real world to real people.