Friday, December 5, 2003
Retired Prosecutor and Former Cooley Aide Patchett Sets Run for District Attorney as End of Filing Nears
By MetNews Staff Writer
A former aide to District Attorney Steve Cooley said yesterday he plans to challenge his ex-boss in the March 2 primary.
“I’m unhappy with the performance of the incumbent,” retired Deputy District Attorney Anthony Patchett told the METNEWS, citing in particular the investigation of the Belmont Learning Center.
Patchett, who campaigned for Cooley four years ago and came out of retirement to become his special assistant after he defeated Gil Garcetti, was removed in July 2001 as head of Cooley’s Belmont Task Force. Cooley concluded the investigation of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s aborted efforts to build a large high school on the site of what critics said was an impending environmental disaster in March 2003.
LAUSD Inspector General Don Mullinax produced an exhaustive report on Belmont in September 1999, suggesting possible violations of environmental, hazardous waste and education laws.
Then-District Attorney Garcetti concluded that there was no basis for any prosecution, a judgment that was vigorously criticized by Cooley during the last campaign. Cooley said he broadened this investigation’s scope, but still found no financial crimes, including bribery, grand theft or securities law violations.
Patchett yesterday disputed those conclusions, saying there was “without a doubt” enough evidence to take the case to the grand jury.
He contrasted the non-action on Belmont with the recent indictments of several organizations and individuals associated with Los Angeles real estate magnate Alan Casden. Those charges, related to alleged campaign contribution laundering, are being prosecuted under “an obscure code section that I’d never seen” used, Patchett said.
Belmont is merely one example of Cooley’s “failure” to prosecute “major defendants,” Patchett said. He cited the Rampart police scandal, the Los Angeles Police Deparment shooting of Margaret Mitchell, and possible criminal conduct by former Insurance Commission Charles Quackenbush while in office, including some acts that Patchett said would have allowed the case to be brought in Los Angeles Countym, even if most of the wrongdoing occurred in Sacramento.
While Cooley has brought a number of anti-corruption prosecutions against local officials in smaller cities, he has a tendency to go after “little people” while wealthier and more prominent individuals are allowed to walk away unscathed, Patchett said.
Patchett added that he made a “last-minute” decision to run and has not begun raising money or chosen a campaign team.
Patchett’s association with the District Attorney’s Office goes back to the 1960s, when he was a driver for the late District Attorney Joseph Busch. He was a district attorney investigator from 1967 to 1980 and a deputy district attorney from 1980 to 1996.
At the time of his retirement he was assistant head deputy in charge of environmental and occupational health and safety prosecutions. In addition to his post-retirement work for Cooley, he said, he worked pro bono assisting the Humboldt County district attorney in the prosecution of Pacific Lumber Company and has advised on possible prosecution in connection with two work-related deaths in Merced County.
With Patchett planning to file by today’s 5 p.m. deadline, the race looks to be shaping up as six-way contest.
Deputy District Attorney Tom Higgins has filed, as has Cooley. Environmental lawyer Roger Carrick said he will file today, while former Los Angeles City Councilman Nick Pacheco and Deputy District Attorney Denise Moehlman have taken out papers.
Carrick yesterday welcomed Patchett into the race, saying his candidacy “heightens” the focus on Belmont, which has been Carrick’s signature issue. Carrick was special outside counsel to Mullinax during his investigation.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company