Monday, August 2, 2010
Editorial Against Garcetti Points to Attributes; Endorsing Newspapers Make Note of Flaws
By ROGER M. GRACE
130th in a Series
GIL GARCETTI appeared likely to be a one-term DA. His 1996 campaign was, until the final month, comprised chiefly of his responding to charges.
Deputy District Attorney John Lynch, his rival in a runoff, had the benefit of a recognizable name. A recent county assessor bore the same moniker, as did a former presiding judge of the Inglewood Municipal Court, a popular figure in the area he served.
Too, Lynch had the advantage of not being Garcetti. “Garcetti” had become a dirty word because of the loss of his office in one particular prosecution, that of O.J. Simpson, tried for a double murder. As an Oct. 30 editorial in the Daily News, endorsing Garcetti, observes: “The campaign against Gil Garcetti’s re-election as district attorney of Los Angeles County centers almost exclusively on two initials—O and J.”
Adding credibility to Lynch’s candidacy was a trophy from the Los Angeles Times: its endorsement in the primary, in which he faced five adversaries, reiterated in the fall. An editorial appearing March 17 says: “[W]e find in prosecutor John F. Lynch, alone among Garcetti’s challengers, hope for more evenhanded leadership in the D.A.’s office, on the routine as well as highly publicized cases.”
Yet, there were drawbacks connected with Lynch’s candidacy. He was inept as a campaigner, utterly uninspiring, and unable to attract meaningful funding. Garcetti outspent him 4-1.
Also, he was responsible for two major setbacks for the DA’s Office…not in truth, but as portrayed in a Garcetti TV commercial, which Lynch did not have the funds to counter.
Although Lynch did bag the newspaper endorsement that meant the most, and possibly drew some others, I’m unaware of any newspaper other than the Times that sided with Lynch. However, the endorsements of Garcetti generally included criticisms of him. The theme seemed to be that Garcetti had done some things right and, yes, had made mistakes, yet the opponents didn’t seem to have the potential of doing things any better, so why not stick with the incumbent?
And just as editorials in favor of Garcetti alluded to his faults, the Times, in endorsing a challenger, pointed to the incumbent’s attainments.
Garcetti was an office-holder who, by any objective analysis, was doing some things quite well…but, being a political animal and one noticeably self-centered, was sometimes markedly misguided in his actions.
The editorial appearing in the Times on St. Patrick’s Day in 1996 heaps this praise on the man it was not endorsing in the primary:
“Gil Garcetti has made many positive contributions to local law enforcement. He has proven himself a tireless worker with a broad vision. He is not reluctant to use his office as a bully pulpit and views his responsibilities as extending to a wide range of crimes. For example, his aggressive education campaign has heightened public concern over domestic violence. Garcetti also has aggressively prosecuted hate crimes, establishing a hate crimes unit within the D.A.’s office. And he has diligently prosecuted environmental crimes.”
In its Oct. 20 editorial re-endorsing Lynch, the Times says that both candidates in the runoff “can take pride in long and distinguished records in the district attorney’s office” and that both “are deeply committed to fighting crime in Los Angeles County.”
The editorial faults Garcetti for his “key decisions” in the Simpson case, such as “presenting an unduly long and complex case” and making calls as to “the evidence and witnesses included or excluded” that were possibly wrong. It adds:
“And questions do remain about his wisdom in accepting contributions of $170,000 in 1992 from Guess Inc. and $50,000 last year from one of its founders, since the D.A.’s office sometimes prosecutes cases involving the theft of Guess jeans and other products. Questions also were raised after the district attorney’s office last year allowed the grandson of a campaign contributor to plead no contest to a lesser count after he originally had been charged with a more serious offense.”
No newspaper endorsing Garcetti had anything more favorable to say about the incumbent than the Times had. The county’s next most widely circulated newspaper, the Daily News, remarks in its March 20 editorial that “arguments presented by Garcetti’s five opponents” concerning the loss in the Simpson case “have fallen flat” in light of each of the rivals’ failure to show why the verdict might have been different if he had been at the helm. The editorial continues:
“Garcetti, of course, is not an innocent bystander. He has stumbled more than a few times, including his poorly handled administration of the ‘three strikes’ mandate—in which policies were inconsistent for different D.A. offices in the county—and his misguided decision to provide extravagant bonuses to the Simpson prosecutors (and not to those working on lower-profile cases).
“Yet if this election represents a referendum on Garcetti’s performance, those stumbles aren’t enough to justify his removal (especially since the other candidates have chosen to focus on the incumbent’s flaws rather than their own strengths).”
The Daily News’s Oct. 30 re-endorsement says that Garcetti “has established a credible record in his four years in office.” Words like “outstanding,” “impressive” and “admirable” are missing.
The Long Beach Press-Telegram’s March 22 editorial derides, yet endorses, Garcetti, using these words:
“Granted, there is plenty of material for critics of the incumbent, Gil Garcetti. Every couch potato in the country has a winning strategy for the O.J. Simpson prosecution; the Eric and Lyle Menendez trial was another major embarrassment (until Wednesday) [murder convictions were obtained following a retrial]; his policies on three-strike cases are criticized from all sides; and the state of morale in the DA’s office is poor, by anyone’s standards.
“Garcetti’s election opponents are whacking hard on these and other weak points, and much of the criticism is clearly valid. What is less clear is which opponent, if any, would do a better job, and whether it is productive to turn the position of DA every four years into the object of a demolition exercise.”
The editorial goes on to comment:
“In the unlikely event Garcetti wins outright on Tuesday, we offer this unsolicited advice for his second term: Refrain from making decisions in celebrity cases that are better left to more experienced trial deputies; do not give bonuses to prosecutors of sensational cases while ignoring those working just as hard in obscurity; establish clear guidelines for three-strike cases grounded in ethics, not politics; devise a policy on cases involving campaign contributors that is beyond criticism.”
The same newspaper on Oct. 15 points to some positive programs Garcetti had instituted, seems to momentarily waver between Lynch and Garcetti, then opts to retain Garcetti as its choice. The editorial declares:
“Garcetti has been accused of showing favoritism to large contributors and even helping a relative of one contributor avoid a three-strikes prosecution (charges he denies). One of his most inexcusable moves was to give the Simpson prosecutors huge bonuses for a trial they lost, miserably. It is no wonder that morale among some of the prosecutors has lagged. And, in response, they have rallied behind Lynch. Lynch is a solid prosecutor and former administrator. He is described by those who have worked with him as a man of reason and discretion. He is more of the down-to-earth-and-to-work type. Garcetti does come across sometimes as a polished politician, but since district attorneys are elected, the image comes with the territory. Garcetti’s overall record as district attorney shows us that he has much more substance than his detractors give him credit for. We believe more of that substance would be revealed during a second term.”
The Daily Breeze, in a March 19 editorial, endorses Garcetti, but lectures:
“[W]e...think Garcetti should strive harder during his second term to maintain a wall of separation between the operations of the D.A.’s Office and campaign business. In addition, the district attorney must work to improve attorneys’ morale and ensure that they have the encouragement, flexibility and support to prosecute a growing caseload.”
The Oct. 30 endorsement counsels:
“In his second term, Garcetti must look to ways to improve the office’s morale amid a growing caseload and strive to work in concert with the other key players in the criminal-justice system, namely police and an overcrowded prison system.”
This newspaper also chose up sides. A March 4 editorial says of Garcetti:
“He has made errors. The salary and vacation benefits awarded prosecutors in the O.J. Simpson case were among them. But in all, we give Garcetti high marks for his performance as district attorney.”
It points to his 93 percent conviction rate, establishment of certain specialized units, and increasing the communication between senior management and staff.
An Oct. 24 MetNews editorial asserts that the incumbent was doing a “praiseworthy job” but finds fault with a television commercial of his “that keeps Lynch’s face on the screen while an announcer mentions his name five times in the course of political mudslinging.”
Yet, that commercial was seen as instrumental in Garcetti overcoming Lynch’s lead. It was effective—though misleading.
In it, an announcer proclaims that Lynch “supervised the Charles Keating trial and was overturned,” adding: “Now, Keating’s out of jail.” Lynch did supervise the successful 1991 securities fraud prosecution of the former Lincoln Savings & Loan president, and the conviction was capsized by a federal judge on April 3, 1996. However, contrary to the implication that there was some sort of prosecutorial misconduct or fumbling, a writ of habeas corpus was granted based on instructional error by the judge.
The commercial also alleges: “John Lynch supervised the McMartin case, offered a secret plea bargain, and later lied about it. Millions of tax dollars later, the case was dismissed.”
The costly ($15 million) six-year child-molestation trial was the first trial; Garcetti oversaw the latter stages of that prosecution, with no involvement by Lynch. Lynch did supervise the shorter retrial on six of the 13 counts on which the original jury was hung and, when jurors again were deadlocked, a decision was made not to go for a third trial. Whether Lynch had offered a plea bargain was not established.
The Oct. 24 MetNews editorial observes:
“While the commercial is nothing for Garcetti to be proud of, Lynch should be utterly humiliated by his gaffe in calling a press conference to urge that stations pull the commercial. A federal statute expressly precludes such censorship. Any competent attorney would have looked up the law before spouting off as Lynch did at Monday’s press conference.”
At that press conference, Lynch took bows for his self-imposed refusal to accept contributions in excess of $5,000. One contributor that gave precisely $5,000 was Riley & Reiner, the law firm of Ira Reiner, the DA whom Garcetti had toppled four years earlier.
Unnoticed at the time was that there were also political patrons who did supply more than $5,000 to Lynch. Among them was DeMenno/Kerdoon, which chipped in $5,000 on Aug. 8…having previously made a gift of $3,000. The company apparently wanted to be on the good side of whichever candidate won; it also gave $12,000 to Garcetti (and it has been a constant contributor to candidates through the years).
What sort of concern was this benefactor? The May 4, 1986, edition of the Times reports: “The operators of California’s largest waste-oil recycling firm—DeMenno-Kerdoon Inc.—have pleaded no contest to criminal charges and agreed to pay a hefty $400,000 fine for transporting and handling nearly 50,000 gallons of toxic chemicals—mostly cleaning solvents discarded by gasoline stations—without a state permit.” The company was again targeted by the DA’s Office in a 1988 crackdown on polluters, with misdemeanor charges instituted. In 1995, an IRS criminal investigator testified in federal court that DeMenno-Kerdoon had given a $10,000 payoff in the early 1990s to the then-mayor of Compton.
Student Insurance Division handed over $5,000 on Aug. 14 to the Lynch campaign; it had already donated $2,500 on May 23; its president went on to make an in-kind contribution of $1,800 on Oct. 6; his wife, an officer of the company, gave $2,500 on May 25.
Lynch—who is currently seeking support for a possible appointment as district attorney by the Board of Supervisors should the current office-holder, Steve Cooley, be elected attorney general—failed to respond to e-mailed queries concerning his evident violations of his $5,000-limit pledge.
So close was the vote in the Nov. 5, 1996, general election that it took 16 days for election officials to determine that Garcetti had won—by a short whisker.
He had about 5,000 more votes than Lynch out of a total of some 2.2 million ballots cast…meaning a victory by a scant .02 percent.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company