Twelve candidates are running in the nonpartisan primary for Los Angeles County District Attorney on March 5, 2024. Five candidates lead in endorsements and local media attention: incumbent George Gascón, Jeff Chemerinsky, Jonathan Hatami, Nathan Hochman, and Eric Siddall.
According to LAist, the election is “expected to be closely watched across the country as a barometer of how the public is feeling about criminal justice reforms amid an increase in property crime. Property crime is up 17.4% in the city of L.A. so far this year compared to two years ago…Violent crime is down 1.3% year to date from two years ago.”
Gascón was elected in 2020 on a platform of not seeking the death penalty, limiting the imposition of cash bail for misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies, and “stopping the practice of imposing excessive sentences.” Gascón says his policies have made county residents safer and he will keep them in place if re-elected: “The reality is that having thoughtful policies that hold people accountable, as we have, sending people to prison when they need to be locked up, but recognizing that prison cannot be the only one answer is what public safety is all about.” Before his election as Los Angeles County District Attorney, Gascón served eight years as San Francisco District Attorney. He earlier served as chief of police in San Francisco and in Mesa, Arizona.
Chemerinsky is a former federal prosecutor, serving for nine years in the Central District of California before resigning to run for district attorney. Like Gascón, Chemerinsky says he opposes the death penalty and supports “criminal justice reform because mass incarceration simply does not work.” Chemerinsky says he will prioritize public safety more than Gascón. Chemerinsky criticizes Gascón for Gascón’s opposition to sentencing enhancements—laws that increase the potential sentence allowed for a crime based on specific aggravating factors—in crimes involving firearms. Chemerinsky says his experience will help him make structural changes to the office.
Hatami has been a deputy district attorney since 2006. Hatami says he was the first prosecutor to publicly speak out against Gascón after Hatami was ordered to strike information Hatami had included in Hatami’s prosecution of a murder case. Hatami says he is a compassionate prosecutor, supporting rehabilitation rather than punishing criminals, but only when balanced with public safety. Hatami says his background as a survivor of child abuse and the son of an immigrant motivates him to prioritize access to justice for all county residents.
Hochman is a defense attorney and former federal prosecutor. Hochman says Gascón has put his policies ahead of public safety and that Hochman will prioritize public safety and victims’ rights over reducing the length of sentences. Hochman says his public and private legal experience will help him change the direction of the district attorney’s office.
Siddall is a deputy district attorney assigned to prosecuting violent crimes. In his former role as vice president of the county prosecutors’ union, Siddall says he successfully sued Gascón over Gascón’s prohibition on sentencing enhancements, allowing prosecutors to again seek higher sentences in crimes with specific aggravating factors. Siddall supports encouraging rehabilitation of criminals and measures to promote public safety. Siddall says he will prioritize hiring 300 new prosecutors to clear the backlog of cases and reduce the crime rate.
Although the election is nonpartisan, Gascón, Chemerinsky, Hatami, and Siddall are registered Democrats and Hochman is an independent.
If one candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, that candidate will win the election outright. Otherwise, the top two finishers will advance to a general election on Nov. 5, 2024. Local political observers say Gascón’s chances of winning a general election depend on which other candidate advances alongside him. According to CalMatters, “Gascón’s best chance for survival probably rests on one of his more conservative challengers, Jonathan Hatami or Nathan Hochman, making it to the runoff…If either Siddall or Chemerinsky made the runoff against Gascón, the contender would have ample room to find votes in the center, leaving Gascón with little space to expand his narrow base.”
Also running in the primary are Debra Archuleta, Daniel Kapelovitz, Lloyd Masson, John McKinney, David Sherman Milton, Craig Mitchell, and Maria Ramirez.