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 him from the courthouse jail.
His mother quickly passed on exciting news to Cachu, a gang member who was only two months away from his 18th birthday in March 2015 when he shot Louis Amela, 41, twice in the back. outside a Palmdale restaurant, killing him. Due to the gravity of the crime, Cachu was tried in adult court and in 2017 sentenced to 50 years in life.
Now, his mother told him, a powerful ally had agreed to intervene on his behalf. That confidante was Alisa Blair, special assistant to Los Angeles County District Attorney George GascÃ³n, whose sweeping social justice guidelines upset Southern California jurisprudence.
“Girl, I got you.”
“He’s GascÃ³n’s special advisor,” Bertha Cachu told her son in a 20-minute taped phone call obtained by the Southern California News Group. “Oh my gosh! She’s going to come over for you. Did you hear that, man? She’s good. I emailed her to.
âYou must be thankful that God is protecting you, Andrew. God supports you.
Later in the conversation, Bertha Cachu said that during the hearing, Blair seemed to indicate that she would help Cachu. “She studied your case, man,” she told her son. âOh my God. And she looked at me like, ‘Girl, I got you.’ “
Blair did not return an email seeking comment.
Under Proposition 57, which was approved by voters in 2016 to improve public safety and deter recidivism with a focus on rehabilitation, Cachu’s case was referred by the California Court of Appeals. in juvenile court to determine whether he should have been tried as an adult.
If his case does not go to adult court, Cachu will likely be released from prison in less than a year, when he turns 25 and the juvenile court’s jurisdiction expires.
GascÃ³n, who took office in December 2020, issued 61 directives that his critics say are favorable to the defendants, such as eliminating the cash bond and improving sentences. Only one – dealing with California’s âthree strokesâ sentencing law – was ruled illegal by a judge.
The guidelines sparked a trial by the Association of Assistant District Attorneys, which represents approximately 800 Los Angeles County prosecutors, and drew reprimands from law enforcement agencies and officials in 22 cities. who cast votes of no confidence for GascÃ³n. He is now facing a recall campaign.
Voters knew what to expect
The people of Los Angeles County knew what they were getting when they elected GascÃ³n, said Lawrence Rosenthal, a former federal prosecutor who teaches criminal law at Chapman University.
“GascÃ³n did not hide the ball when he ran for office,” he said. âHe was very clear on 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 allow the prosecution of minors as adults and the local majority that elected a district attorney who believes it is. is too hard. “
Among the district attorney’s new policies is the end of the practice of prosecuting minors in the adult justice system, regardless of the seriousness of the crime.
“All pending motions to transfer youth to adult court jurisdiction will be withdrawn on the earliest available court date,” the policy says. âCases will be judged or settled within the existing limits of juvenile jurisdiction. “
Mainly responsible for this policy is Blair, a former Los Angeles County Deputy Public Defender who is responsible for transfer hearings involving minors originally indicted in adult court.
Cozy to the accused
Kathleen Cady, a former Los Angeles County prosecutor who represents Amela’s family, takes issue with Blair’s intimate relationship with Cachu and his mother.
Last week, she made the unusual decision to file a motion demanding that Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Brian Yep disqualify Blair from the Cachu case for repeatedly demonstrating that his allegiance rests firmly on the accused and not the victims of crime and their families.
âThe criminal justice system is an adversarial system requiring a prosecutor and a defense lawyer,â Cady’s motion says. âThis is how the system was designed and works. The system does not work if there are two defense lawyers and no prosecutor. Gascon’s policies violate the law and his delegation of these affairs does not allow anyone to represent the victims.
Ms. However, Blair’s sustained efforts and actions, both surreptitiously and overtly, have effectively abandoned the prosecutor’s duty to seek justice and avoid the appearance of impropriety.
“It’s a sad day”
Eric Siddall, vice president of the Los Angeles County Association of Assistant Prosecutors, said Cady’s motion raised troubling questions.
“It’s a sad day when victims of crime need lawyers to defend their rights against a sitting district attorney,” he said. âIt is even sadder that the victims’ lawyers are now asking for the recusal of the office due to a conflict of interest and a lack of trust in the public prosecutor. This is a new low allowed by cronyism that was predictable and preventable.
The district attorney’s office is considering opposing the petition, said Alex Bastian, GascÃ³n’s adviser.
There is objective evidence that contradicts the motion and the attached statement, namely the full transcripts of the prison appeal and court proceedings, Bastian said. “This motion lacks merit and we look forward to dealing with it at the next invocation of the case,” he said.
Gascon recruited deputy public defenders
Blair was one of several Los Angeles County deputy public defenders recruited by Gascon to implement his sweeping social reforms. He announced his appointment as one of his top lieutenants in a January note to his staff
“In this role, Ms. Blair will advise the district attorney on juvenile court, diversion, collaboration and all related matters,” said the memo, which was included in Cady’s motion. âShe brings 18 years of criminal justice experience in roles such as adult and juvenile trial work, training new lawyers, recruiting legal clerks and juvenile unit supervisor. Ms. Blair is published on issues of race, juvenile interrogations and cash bail, and speaks frequently about adolescent brain development and the impact of trauma on youth development.
Cady alleges that Blair’s work history and social media posts raise concerns about his ability to impartially judge Cachu’s case.
In 2018, Blair, while serving as a Deputy Public Advocate, managed to keep the cases of two clients accused of violent murders in juvenile court following contested hearings, Cady argues in the petition.
Then, in August 2020, as protesters set Los Angeles ablaze in response to the Minneapolis police murder of George Floyd, Blair tweeted â#GeorgeFloydProtest Burn that Shâ down,â the motion notes.
“While Ms Blair certainly has the right to free speech, she cannot incite violence and embolden riots, which is exactly what her tweet was encouraging,” the motion reads.
Cady also alleges that during a Zoom call, Blair told a lawyer representing a crime victim that she wrote most of GascÃ³n’s policy for young offenders. Cady thinks she wrote the policy when she was still an associate lawyer
âThe importance of this lack of impartiality cannot be overstated,â the motion states.
Rosenthal, Chapman’s teacher, thinks it may be difficult for Cady to prove Blair is one-sided, which warrants her dismissing the Cachu case. “The allegation (in the petition) is that she has a point of view which is the same as that of Gascon,” he said. “Although this point of view may be in tension with the rule of law, it is a point of view that Gascon presented to the voters.”
The detective observes a bias
Blair’s bias was fully visible during Cachu’s May 10 hearing at the Michael Antonovich Antelope Valley courthouse, according to Detective Teri Bernstein, who attended the proceedings, of the Los Angeles County Sheriff.
Bernstein, who has been assigned to the Cachu case since 2015, said in a signed statement that she observed Blair in a hallway outside the courtroom talking to colleagues.
“I heard Ms. Blair tell staff at the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office that she had spent her entire career as a defense attorney and had specialized in dismissal,” Bernstein said.
Bernstein said she tried to introduce herself to Blair but was turned away. “She looked at me, turned around and left,” the detective said in the statement. “She did not interact with me during the court period.”
Blair introduced Bertha Cachu to the hearing judge, but made no effort to contact Amela’s family, according to Bernstein.
Bastian said Cady informed Blair in February not to speak to Amela’s family. However, Cady said that request was made only after the May 10 hearing.
Bernstein also recalled hearing Blair say to Cachu’s mother in a hallway of the courthouse something like “Don’t worry, he’s going to come out.”
During the taped phone conversation, Bertha Cachu read her son a long and detailed email from Blair describing the legal process GascÃ³n planned to use to keep his case in juvenile court.
“I’m sure this is all frustrating and confusing, but the bottom line is that the prosecutor wants to keep Andrew in juvenile court and we are working towards that,” Bertha Cachu said, quoting Blair’s email.
She also spoke in amazement about how lucky her son was to have GascÃ³n in his corner. “We never (thought) that the prosecutor (would) be on our side,” she said. “It’s crazy, isn’t it? It’s amazing, man.
A hearing on Cady’s petition is tentatively scheduled for July 29.