CAMPAIGN 2024 INTERVIEW - A former prosecutor and assistant attorney general offering what he describes as a “blue-print for justice,” Nathan Hochman sees himself as the natural alternative to the embattled and controversial incumbent, LA District Attorney George George Gascón.
A lifelong Angeleno, Nathan Hochman was born and raised in Los Angeles and is married with three children views his candidacy as the opposite on the issues of crime and public safety to the incumbent. With a lifetime of public service as a prosecutor, we spoke to Hochman about his campaign and how he is reaching out to voters to be one of the two top finishers to earn a place in a probable run-off scenario. Below is our interview with the candidate: \
The field is quite large and the prospect of a runoff probable. How does one breakout of a large pool of challengers in a countywide race with limited media coverage?
I am extremely grateful to have thousands of people from all political perspectives supporting my campaign, both on the ground with a grassroots effort and through record-setting financial contributions. The level of enthusiasm from my supporters, who want an independent prosecutor who will get politics out of the D.A.’s Office and enforce the law, is inspiring. They’ve given me the resources to launch the first television commercials in this election – allowing me to broadly share my message that I am hopeful will resonate with voters. This will be followed by robust social media, mail, text, and radio advertising to communicate my message of common-sense criminal justice to millions of Angelenos. I have also pounded the pavement, meeting with crime victims, business owners, parents’ groups, neighborhood councils, law enforcement officers, and local politicians, and shared my vision to reform the District Attorney’s Office and restore public safety. Polling has shown that my message is resonating with voters, and I will be one of the top two candidates in the March primary and then soundly defeat George Gascón in the November general election by 15-20 points.
What separates the Hochman message from the incumbent and the rest of the field?
My 34 years of criminal justice and leadership experience on both sides of the aisle, first as a prosecutor and later as a defense attorney, give me a unique perspective that will allow me to enforce the law and keep the community safe, while also working with first-offense, non-violent offenders to re-direct their lives. This sets me apart from George Gascón, who has never prosecuted or defended a case in his life. He is inexperienced in the courtroom and instead is driven by a radical, political ideology that only benefits criminals, not the public. I reject George Gascón’s pro-criminal blanket policies on one end of the pendulum swing and blanket mass incarceration policies on the other end, instead advocating a “hard middle” approach based on an individualized analysis of the defendant, the crime committed, and the impact on the victim to determine who the true threats are to our public safety who need to be behind bars and the ones that aren’t, like a first-time, non-violent offender, who can pay their debt to society through community service or a diversion program. Unlike any other candidate, I have been (i) a prosecutor and a defense attorney with a 360-degree perspective on the criminal justice system; (ii) a Presidentially nominated, unanimously Senate confirmed U.S. Assistant Attorney General running the Dept. of Justice’s Tax Division with a $100 million budget and 350 lawyers prosecuting cases around the nation; (iii) the leader of two major international law firms’ government investigations practices; (iv) the President of the L.A. City Ethics Commission holding public officials accountable; and (v) co-founder of the L.A. Sheriff’s Foundation working to bring needed resources (e.g., de-escalation training, air rescue drone, flak jackets, gang intervention supplies) to the department.
What is unique in your background that makes you the logical choice for DA?
As stated above, what sets me apart from the rest of the field is that I am the only challenger with 34 years’ prosecutorial and defense criminal justice experience who also has had proven leadership experience in public and private organizations. As U.S. Assistant Attorney General of the Tax Division, I managed 350 attorneys and 150 staff and a $100 million budget, dealing with the senior ranks of the Justice Department, Congress, and 94 U.S. Attorney’s Offices around the country. My management style is best described by the famous quote, “There is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.” As I demonstrated as Assistant Attorney General and law firm and Ethics Commission leader, I believe in empowering the people I lead by getting them the resources and support they need to do their best work. I do not micro-manage. I will reverse George Gascón’s blanket policies that handcuffed prosecutors and greatly reduced punishment for committing crime in this county. I believe the greatest asset of the DA’s Office is the collective thousands of years of experience and judgment the approximately 900+ prosecutors bring to their work. I will learn from them and make decisions based on that collective wisdom to promote public safety, allowing the evidence and the law to dictate the result, not a political ideology. My criminal justice experience on both sides of the aisle, my proven leadership successes in public and private practice, and my independence make me the best choice to move past the George Gascón era and rebuild trust with prosecutors, law enforcement, victims and the public to restore public safety in Los Angeles County.
When it comes to first-time offenders, what diversion programs would you recommend?
Assuming the crime committed by the first-time offender permits diversion, my goal is to have that person pay their debt to society by dealing with what caused them to commit the crime in the first place. If they are dealing with a serious mental illness or substance abuse disorder, as over 70% of our homeless population struggle with each day, if they are willing to enter into a comprehensive program to deal with their illness, then I will work hard to make sure they get that opportunity. For those who won’t enter such programs voluntarily but otherwise qualify for them, the CARE court and AB 1360 substance abuse programs now give courts the ability to order residential placement for those afflicted by these diseases to obtain treatment. Having judges sentence those with such illnesses to jails or prisons, who qualify for diversion programs, only warehouses them and does nothing to deal with the underlying causes of their criminality. Nor does having the courts release such people back to the streets where the encampments many of them live in are inhumane, violent and dangerous. To the extent that our laws have eliminated the potential prison sentences that drove many people into diversion programs like drug court (which used to successfully graduate hundreds of rehabilitated offenders every year and have completely dried up), I will work to modify such laws to enable drug courts to work again.
What will be your policy when it comes to immigration and deportation of undocumented individuals in the justice system?
If an undocumented individual commits a crime in this county, the District Attorney’s Office will hold them fully accountable for their actions in our justice system. Thereafter, it is the obligation of the federal government to deport them for being in the country unlawfully. If someone is undocumented and the victim of a crime, there are laws in place that will allow crime victims to be granted a temporary visa to live and work in the United States with the possibility of obtaining permanent resident status. We will create a situation where they’re able to report the crime and the criminal is held responsible, not the victim. Too often, criminals have taken advantage of vulnerable populations, and that will stop when I am D.A.
What percentage of the DA’s case load are individuals with mental illness, substance abuse and homelessness? How will these cases be treated?
Mental illness, substance addiction and homelessness are rampant issues in the criminal justice system – and present an opportunity for the courts to intervene and provide solutions. A recent study found that about 40% of the inmate population in the Los Angeles County jails have been diagnosed with mental illness. The estimate is that over 70% of the homeless suffer from serious mental illness, substance abuse disorder, or both. The court system is an effective avenue to intervene early and provide resources to help those persons experiencing mental health issues and drug addiction. I will work to make the CARE courts a success in treating those with severe mental illness since the alternative is to incarcerate them in jails where they receive little to no assistance with their illness or put them back on the street which is condemning them to a life fraught with violence and danger. I will also work to expand CARE courts to those suffering from substance addictions.
What is your position on qualified immunity?
I support qualified immunity. Law enforcement officers who make split-second, life-or-death decisions while trying to protect our safety shouldn’t be held personally liable for actions conducted in their official capacity, unless their actions clearly violate the law. This doesn’t mean that victims will not be compensated. The officers’ employers can be held liable in civil courts. As District Attorney, I will not tolerate criminal conduct by those we entrust to enforce the law. I am also the only candidate who has actually personally prosecuted law enforcement officers when they crossed the line and also the only candidate that has represented them as parties in court.
Does Los Angeles County need to construct another jail? Will you support a capital plan for new and renovated facilities?
I support a plan to tear down the antiquated Men’s Central Jail and replace it with a modern mental health facility with thousands of beds for those experiencing mental illness. This will be a place where they can live safely and receive necessary psychiatric treatment. Our current jail setup is not the proper environment for the mentally ill, who make up about 40% of our inmate population. This modern mental health facility will help keep inmates safe and be staffed with experts who could help them move to less-restrictive environments as their conditions improve. Not only will a new facility, which has been on the drawing board for over a decade, provide better conditions for inmates, including rehabilitation opportunities that don’t currently exist, it will also be better for families of the inmates visiting them and the guards in charge of their safety. Men’s Central Jail, built the year of my birth in 1963, only had a 30-40 year shelf life and is 20 years past its expiration date.
What is your position on cash bail?
Unlike George Gascón who has advocated for a zero-bail policy, I would advocate for a bail policy based on a careful review by a magistrate of the risks of a defendant committing future crimes or not showing up at their next court hearing. The current cash bail system needs to be reformed, not scrapped, because on both extreme ends, it fails to properly assess the risk of danger to the community and flight. On one end, people who are at high risk to reoffend or flee can post the cash bond determined by the nature of the crime, not these risks; at the other end, someone who poses no such risks but is indigent and cannot make a minimum bail, remains incarcerated when that person should otherwise have the opportunity to litigate their case without being incarcerated first. Thus, I would reform both the cash bail and zero bail systems to ground them in this risk analysis. Moreover, I would advocate for having every case brought to a magistrate within 48 hours of arrest so that we would no longer have a blanket policy that certain criminals, notwithstanding their potential to harm society, are back on the streets within hours of arrest.
What will be your position on high profile cases? Will you try the cases yourself?
Unlike George George Gascón, I have tried high profile cases throughout my career. I know what it takes to win such cases. While I might not try the case myself as DA, I would certainly play an active role in ensuring that the trial team assigned is the best possible and the factual and legal positions they take are the most effective and legal to obtain a conviction. The DA’s Office has some of the most talented trial attorneys in the nation, and I would fully support them in contrast to DA George Gascón’s demonstrated lack of trust in them.
(Nick Antonicello is a thirty-one-year resident of Venice and covers the deliberations and actions of the Venice Neighborhood Council. For more information on the VNC, visit online at www.venicenc.org Have a take or a tip on all things Venice? Contact Antonicello at [email protected])