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‘God has your back,’ mom tells son after DA George Gascón moves to cut decades from killer’s prison term

Bertha Cachu could barely contain her joy on the morning of May 10 as she spoke with her son by phone. Both had just attended his hearing at the Michael Antonovich Antelope Valley Courthouse, and Andrew Cachu was calling her from the courthouse lockup.

His mother quickly relayed some exciting news to Cachu, a gang member who was just two months shy of his 18th birthday in March 2015 when he shot 41-year-old Louis Amela twice in the back outside a Palmdale restaurant, killing him. Because of the gravity of the crime, Cachu was tried in adult court and, in 2017, sentenced to 50 years to life in prison.

Now, his mother told him, a powerful ally had agreed to intervene on his behalf. That confidante was Alisa Blair, a special assistant to Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón, whose sweeping social justice directives have turned Southern California jurisprudence on its head.

“Girl, I got you.”

“That’s Gascón’s special adviser,” Bertha Cachu explained to her son in a 20-minute recorded phone call obtained by the Southern California News Group. “Oh my God! She’s going to be coming in your case. Did you hear that, man? She’s good. She’s the one I’ve been emailing back and forth.

“You need to be grateful that God has your back, Andrew. God has your back.”

Later in the conversation, Bertha Cachu said that during the hearing Blair seemed to signal she would help Cachu. “She’s been studying your case, dude,” she told her son. “Oh my God. And she looked at me like, ‘Girl, I got you.’ “

Blair did not return an email seeking comment.

Proposition 57

Under Proposition 57, which was approved by voters in 2016 to enhance public safety and discourage recidivism by emphasizing rehabilitation, Cachu’s case has been remanded by the California Court of Appeal to Juvenile Court to determine if he should have been tried as an adult.

If his case isn’t transferred back to adult court, Cachu likely will be released from prison in less than a year, when he turns 25 and the Juvenile Court’s jurisdiction expires.

Gascón, who took office in December 2020, has issued 61 directives that his critics believe are friendly to criminal defendants, such as elimination of cash bail and sentence enhancements. Only one — dealing with California’s “three strikes” sentencing law — has been deemed illegal by a judge.

The directives have sparked a lawsuit from the Association of Deputy District Attorneys, which represents about 800 Los Angeles County prosecutors, and have drawn rebuke from law enforcement agencies and officials in 22 cities who have cast no-confidence votes for Gascón. He now faces a recall campaign.

Voters knew what to expect

Los Angeles County residents knew what they were getting when they elected Gascón, said Lawrence Rosenthal, a former federal prosecutor who teaches criminal law at Chapman University.

“Gascón did not hide the ball when he ran for office,” he said. “He was very clear about the approach he was going to take. He won a fair election. The conflict is that there is the statewide majority in the California Legislature that wants to permit the prosecution of juveniles as adults and the local majority that elected a district attorney who believes this is too harsh.”

Among the district attorney’s new policies is an end the practice of prosecuting juveniles in the adult court system, regardless of the seriousness of the crime.

“All pending motions to transfer youth to adult court jurisdiction shall be withdrawn at the soonest available court date,” the policy says. “Cases will proceed to adjudication or disposition within the existing boundaries of juvenile jurisdiction.”

The chief enforcer of that policy is Blair, a strident former Los Angeles County deputy public defender who is responsible for transfer hearings involving juveniles initially charged in adult court.

Cozying up to defendants

Kathleen Cady, a former Los Angeles County prosecutor who is representing Amela’s family, objects to Blair’s cozy relationship with Cachu and his mother.

Last week, she took the unusual step of filing a motion demanding that Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Brian Yep disqualify Blair from the Cachu case for repeatedly demonstrating that her allegiance firmly lies with defendants and not crime victims and their families.

“The criminal justice system is an adversary system requiring a prosecutor and a defense attorney,” Cady’s motion says. “That is how the system was designed and works. The system does not work if there are two defense attorneys and no prosecutor. Gascon’s policies violate the law and his delegation of these cases leaves no one representing victims.

“Ms. Blair’s sustained efforts and actions, however, both surreptitiously and overtly, have effectively abandoned the prosecutorial duty to seek justice and to avoid the appearance of impropriety.”

‘It’s a sad day’

Eric Siddall, vice president of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys in Los Angeles County, said Cady’s motion raises troubling questions.

“It is a sad day when victims of crime need lawyers to defend their rights against a sitting district attorney,” he said. “It is even sadder that victims’ lawyers are now calling for the office to be recused because of a conflict of interest and a lack of confidence in the district attorney. This is a new low enable by cronyism that was foreseeable and avoidable.”

The District Attorney’s Office plans to oppose the motion, said Alex Bastian, an adviser to Gascón.

There are objective pieces of evidence that contradict the motion and the attached declaration, namely the complete transcripts of both the jail call and the court proceedings, Bastian said. “This motion lacks merit and we look forward to addressing it at the next calling of the case,” he said.

Gascon recruited deputy public defenders

Blair was among several Los Angeles County deputy public defenders recruited by Gascon to implement his sweeping social reforms. He announced her appointment as one of his top lieutenants in a January memo to his staff

“In this role, Ms. Blair will advise the District Attorney on juvenile, diversion, collaborative courts, and all related matters,” says the memo, which was included in Cady’s motion. “She brings 18 years of criminal justice experience in capacities including adult and juvenile trial work, new lawyer training, law clerk recruitment, and juvenile unit supervisor. Ms. Blair is published on issues of race, juvenile interrogations, and cash bail and frequently speaks on adolescent brain development and the impact of trauma on youth development.”

Cady alleges that Blair’s work history and social media postings raise concerns about her ability to impartially adjudicate Cachu’s case.

In 2018, Blair, while serving as a deputy public defender, successfully kept the cases of two clients, charged with violent murders, in juvenile court following contested hearings, Cady argues in the motion..

Then, in August 2020, while protesters set fires in Los Angeles in response to the George Floyd killing by Minneapolis police, Blair tweeted “#GeorgeFloydProtest Burn that Sh– down,” the motion notes.

“While Ms. Blair certainly has a right to free speech, she may not incite violence and embolden rioting, which is exactly what her tweet encouraged,” says the motion.

Cady also alleges that during a Zoom call Blair told an attorney representing a crime victim that she had written most of Gascón’s policy for juvenile offenders. Cady believes she wrote the policy while still employed as a deputy public defender

“The import of this lack of impartiality cannot be overstated,” the motion states.

Rosenthal, the Chapman professor, believes it may difficult for Cady to prove Blair is biased, warranting her dismissal from the Cachu case. “The allegation (in the motion) is that she has a view  that is the same as Gascon’s view,” he said. “While that view may be in tension with the rule of law, it’s a view that Gascon presented to voters.”

Detective observes bias

Blair’s bias was on full display during Cachu’s May 10 hearing at Michael Antonovich Antelope Valley Courthouse, according to Los Angeles County sheriff’s homicide Detective Teri Bernstein, who attended the proceedings.

Bernstein, who has been assigned to the Cachu case since 2015, said in a signed declaration she observed Blair in a hallway outside the courtroom talking to co-workers.

“I heard Ms. Blair telling Los Angeles District Attorney office staff that she spent her entire career as a defense attorney and she specialized in getting juvenile cases dismissed,” Bernstein said.

Bernstein said she attempted to introduce herself to Blair but was rebuffed. “She scowled at me and turned and walked away,” the detective said in the declaration. “She did not interact with me any further during the duration of court.”

Blair introduced Bertha Cachu to the judge conducting the hearing, but made no effort to communicate with Amela’s family, according to Bernstein.

Bastian said Cady notified Blair in February not to speak to Amela’s family. However, Cady said that request wasn’t made until after the May 10 hearing.

Bernstein also recalled hearing Blair telling Cachu’s mother in a hallway at the courthouse something to the effect of “Don’t worry, he will get out.”

Email from Blair

During the recorded phone conversation, Bertha Cachu read her son a lengthy, detailed email from Blair outlining the legal process Gascón planned to use to keep his case in Juvenile Court.

“I am sure this is all frustrating and confusing, but the bottom line is that the DA wants to keep Andrew in Juvenile Court and we are working towards that goal,” Bertha Cachu said, quoting Blair’s email.

She also spoke with amazement about how fortunate her son is to have Gascón in his corner.  “We never (thought) the district attorney (would) be on our side,” she said. “That is crazy, right? That is unbelievable, man.”

 

A hearing on Cady’s motion is tentatively scheduled for July 29.


Source: Orange County Register

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