Monday, October 26, 2009
Why Is the Times on Trutanich’s Back?
Had it not been for the endorsement of the Los Angeles Times, it’s likely that Carmen “Nuch” Trutanich would not have been elected Los Angeles city attorney.
Now that he is the city attorney, intent on carrying out his duties with vigor, the Times has soured on him, and appears intent upon obstructing his election to any office in the future.
The newspaper has the prerogative of changing its mind, of course, and has the right—an essential and cherished right—to criticize a public official.
Its criticism of Trutanich has, however, been generally unfair, as we see it—not fact-based, but based on an apparent quest to malign.
n editorial cartoon on Friday reflects this misguided mission. A headline reads: “L.A. DISTRICT ATTORNEY CARMEN TRUTANICH SAYS HE’LL ONLY CLOSE POT SHOPS THAT MAKE A PROFIT.” (Trutanich might well become district attorney someday, despite the Times’ anticipated opposition, but right now Steve Cooley holds that job.) Anyway, it depicts a dopey-looking character, who doesn’t resemble Trutanich in the least, clad in a suit with bold pinstripes which Trutanich would never wear, saying to the proprietor of a pot shop, standing behind a display case: “IF YOU’RE LOSING MONEY, YOU CAN STAY OPEN.” Standing next to the proprietor is a cohort commenting: “HE MUST BE A FORMER BANK EXEC.”
This misses the point that Trutanich and Cooley have been making. They have been contending that the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, enacted as an initiative measure, does not contemplate commercial sales of marijuana. To infer from this that Trutanich wants to go after pot shops that are making money and exempt operations that are in the red is to distort the position taken by the prosecutors, and trivialize a sound legal proposition, one firmly rooted in case law.
Here’s how Trutanich phrased the proposition Wednesday night in a talk before the Armenian Bar Association:
“When I read the Compassionate Use Act, I didn’t see it say the ‘Recreational Use Act’ or the ‘Legalized Use Act,’ or the ‘Commercial Use Act.’ It’s the ‘Compassionate Use Act.’ In fact, do you know what I did?...I pulled the ballot language on this....In the ballot [argument], it says: the Compassionate Use Act is not here to protect ‘those who want to grow too much or try to sell it.’ That’s their language, not mine; that’s the proponents’ language. So at the time that they passed this in 1996, they envisioned that there would be no sales. And now we have over 900 places selling marijuana in the City of L.A. It is amazing to me.”
The act, embodied in Health & Safety Code §11362.5, states this purpose:
“To ensure that seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes where that medical use is deemed appropriate and has been recommended by a physician who has determined that the person’s health would benefit from the use of marijuana in the treatment of cancer, anorexia, AIDS, chronic pain, spasticity, glaucoma, arthritis, migraine, or any other illness for which marijuana provides relief.”
That, and only that, is the objective. The statute spells out:
“Nothing in this section shall be construed to supersede legislation prohibiting persons from engaging in conduct that endangers others, nor to condone the diversion of marijuana for nonmedical purposes.”
A Third District Court of Appeal 2005 opinion looks at cases which thus far had interpreted the Compassionate Use Act, and says:
“These cases teach us that the Compassionate Use Act is a narrowly drafted statute designed to allow a qualified patient and his or her primary caregiver to possess and cultivate marijuana for the patient’s personal use despite the penal laws that outlaw these two acts for all others. Further, the enactment of the Compassionate Use Act did not alter the other statutory prohibitions related to marijuana, including those that bar the transportation, possession for sale, and sale of marijuana.”
Trutanich and Cooley should be commended by the Times for undertaking to enforce the law—not subjected to petty taunts for doing so.
As an aside: whether Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant erred on Oct. 19 or didn’t in striking down the City of Los Angeles’ moratorium on marijuana dispensaries (based on the moratorium having been illegally extended) is perhaps not all that important. Los Angeles doesn’t need any ordinance on the subject if, in fact, commercial dispensers of marijuana are, under state law, operating criminally. Cooley said on Oct. 8: “The vast, vast, vast majority, about 100%, of dispensaries in Los Angeles County and the city are operating illegally, they are dealing marijuana illegally, according to our theory.” Indeed, the only circumstance under which it is lawful to accept money for marijuana is where a caretaker recoups actual costs in growing and harvesting the substance. That exception does not allow for pretext, inventiveness, or stretching of the truth. If “about 100%” of the dispensaries are operating criminally, then about 100% of the dispensaries should be shut down.
his is not the first time the Times has wronged Trutanich. An analytical piece by Maeve Reston portrays him as insensitive to the feelings of a family whose 19-month-old girl—used as a shield by her father, who fired off 41 shots at police—was inadvertently killed by a bullet fired by an officer. What Trutanich did was to evince glee upon hearing the news that the city had won a wrongful death action against it.
“It was a delicate matter, but Trutanich’s first reaction was to show pride in his team’s work. He hugged and high-fived his deputies, offering one of them a cigar from a wooden box at the back of his office. A Times photographer captured the scene.
“A more seasoned elected official might have tempered his response in front of two journalists.”
It was a victory for the city. The outcome—a dismissal of the case by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu—exonerated the police. It showed the wisdom of Trutanich’s policy of not settling meritless lawsuits—as his predecessor, Rocky Delgadillo, had done with regularity—but to hold out for victory where it seemed that the case could be won.
Trutanich knew that a little girl had died four years ago. He was reacting to something that had just occurred—something positive. He was glad the city had won a frivolous lawsuit that, if lost, could have drained city coffers of millions of dollars.
In the Aug. 4 edition of the Times is an objective report on Treu’s action and Trutanich’s comments. For some reason, there was perceived to be a need to follow-up with a Page 1 story on Sunday, Aug. 9, which seems to impute heartlessness to the city attorney.
lso in Friday’s edition of the Times is an editorial denigrating Trutanich. It disagrees with Trutanich’s legal conclusion that a permit for six lighted signs cannot be granted to a developer, though its project has long been pending, in light of the city’s new billboard moratorium.
Trutanich didn’t draft the ordinance, one that is harsh where plans had been made under what was existing law. But there is a moratorium, and there’s nothing in the ordinance that permits an exception, other than that judicially carved out by a federal judge: where permits had already been granted before the ordinance went into effect.
The Times argues:
“City Atty. Carmen Trutanich and his staff are overreaching in concluding that L.A. Live is not ‘vested’ because it hasn’t received a final sign permit. If eight years of city approvals and the company’s huge investments based on them do not constitute vesting, nothing does.”
The argumentation strikes us as sophomoric. A right cannot be a vested one until it is created; before a permit is issued, there is a mere expectancy, not a right.
In any event, we note the ad hominem nature of the Times assault on Trutanich:
“Bombast and egotism are sadly familiar in city government, though Trutanich is plumbing new depths in both....Trutanich...should lay off the coffee.”
e are not a self-appointed apologist for Trutanich. If he does wrong, we’ll criticize him.
So far, what we discern is a sincere, hard-working man who is expending considerable effort to protect the interests of taxpayers and to thwart crime. He deserves a pat on the back, not a stab in it.
We don’t know what is motivating the Times’ assaults. They are, we submit, not warranted.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company