Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Monday, September 27, 2010


Page 7



Garcetti Cries ‘Foul’ Over Cooley’s Receipt of Funds From Judges, DDAs




136th in a Series


GIL GARCETTI, behind in the polls in 2000 when he sought election to a third term as district attorney, strained to manufacture issues against his rival in a run-off, DDA Steve Cooley. Throughout the campaign, he assailed Cooley for displaying a lack of ethics in accepting contributions from judges and from deputy DAs…something Garcetti said that he, personally, would not do.

Garcetti raised the issue the day after the March 7 primary.

He brought it up again on April 14 when he and Cooley were both on the line for half an hour with KCRW journalist/host Warren Olney IV (grandson of a California Supreme Court justice).

Cooley had “put the muscle on 57 judges” to contribute money to his campaign, an April 17 MetNews story quotes Garcetti as charging during that live radio broadcast. The article reports that Garcetti said he could have garnered funds from even more judges than that if he had tried, but that his code of ethics foreclosed him from doing so.

“He doesn’t get it,” Garcetti said of his rival, according to the account.

A May 9 article in the Los Angeles Times discloses:

“Despite his denials...Garcetti has taken money from judges, though not nearly to the extent that Cooley has this year. County records show that Garcetti accepted contributions from at least eight active judges, court commissioners or referees in the 1992 and 1996 races.

“In an interview, Garcetti said he did not recall taking those contributions. He said he remembered only a few donations from retired judges. ‘If we accepted any others, then it was a mistake,’ he said. ‘We should not have taken those.’”

But why not?

Surely it could not be ethical for a judge to contribute funds under any circumstances where it would be unethical for the recipient to accept them. That would amount to complicity in a wrongful act. However, the fact that a judge is expressly permitted to give a sum not “in excess of five hundred dollars in any calendar year per…candidate” would seem to bar any conclusion that a candidate, in accepting a campaign gift from a judge of $500 or less, is doing so improperly. The rule on the subject is set forth in Canon 5(A)(3) of the Code of Judicial Ethics, approved by the California Supreme Court in 1996.

A May 11, 2000, MetNews editorial (which endorsed Cooley) reasons:

“The propriety of the receipt of contributions from judges can be brought into focus by looking at judicial campaigns. In such campaigns, lawyers give money to judges, or would-be judges. This creates an awkward circumstance, since lawyers appear before judges. Yet, the reality is that lawyers are the most logical source of contributions to judicial campaigns, since they are the persons who have the greatest knowledge of the respective candidates’ attributes, and the greatest interest in the composition of the judiciary. Notwithstanding the discomfort of many judicial candidates in accepting donations from lawyers, it is an accepted practice. This is so even though a judge is in a position to ‘do something’ for lawyers who supported them.

“On the other hand, a lawyer appearing before a judge is not in a position to ‘do something’ for the judge. If Cooley attains the office he seeks, he will become the head of a government law firm. The lawyers in his office will appear before judges who contributed to their leader. However, even if the deputies were cognizant of which judges made such donations—and that is doubtful—how could those deputies ‘repay’ the judges, even if they were so inclined? And to think that deputy district attorneys would be disposed to bestowing rewards on judges based on their political donations truly is inconceivable.”

By the way, just how would a candidate for the post of chief prosecutor for the county be able to “put the muscle” on judges? What threat could be made?

Garcetti’s view on ethics has been rebuffed this year by the Superior Court judges—64 of them through Aug. 2—who have contributed to Cooley’s campaign for attorney general. A discussion of those contributions appears below.

Garcetti also asserted during the radio show that Cooley “put the muscle” on “47 DA employees to contribute to his campaign.” The Times, in combing the campaign financial reports, affirmed that Garcetti had not accepted money from within the office—and given that he had present control over assignments and promotions of those in the office, that was appropriate.

In essence, Garcetti charged that Cooley created an implied threat to DDAs that if they didn’t cough up cash, and he got in, it would be remembered. Yet, some employee in a government office who would act politically out of fear would be more apt to avoid offending the party in power—especially one with a reputation for vindictiveness—than an insurgent with no such known propensity.

Cooley’s retort, quoted May 9 by the Times, was: “Right now, I’m not their boss; I’m their colleague.”

As DA, he pledged, he would not accept funds from those working under him. (In his present campaign for AG, contributions were returned to Deputy District Attorneys Peter Bliss, Daniel Felizzatto, Craig Gold, Max Huntsman, Steve Katz, Eric Siddall, Amy Suehiro,  Liza Tom, and Jennifer Turk.)

The MetNews editorial suggests:

“The deputies [who contributed to Cooley] had to have appreciated that they would incur the displeasure of their boss. Yet, their commitment to Cooley’s election spurred them to chance retaliation from Garcetti, and chip in some money. The stance that Cooley was somehow ethically obliged to douse this sentiment by rebuffing their offerings is absurd.

“While the potential does exist that Cooley will become district attorney and show favoritism to those who contributed to him, that potential is no greater than that of judges smiling upon causes of lawyers who gave money to their campaigns. The evil is merely theoretical.”

Cooley now says this of his predecessor:

“I think he started off with all the good intentions, but his failing, if he had one, was it was all about Gil. I think he looked at everything through a prism of ‘How is this going to affect Gil Garcetti, future attorney general, future governor?’ How is this politically going to impact his next election, or whatever?”

In light of that tendency, Cooley suggests, Garcetti “did a lot of things that were ultimately contraproductive to all of his ambitions.”

A campaign leaflet Garcetti used in his first campaign, in 1992, says:

“Gil is not looking to start a career in politics—he just wants to be best DA in the history of LA County.”

By any objective assessment, he did not achieve that goal. On the other hand, he did, overall, a respectable job.


Steve Cooley was sworn in as district attorney on Dec. 4, 2000. The ceremony, which began at 4 p.m., took place in a packed auditorium in the Luckman Fine Arts Complex of Cal State University. A young Steven Cooley had been student body president at Cal State in 1969, and was honored 30 years later as alumnus of the year.

At his swearing-in, three former district attorneys—John Van de Kamp, Robert Philibosian and Ira Reiner—were among the speakers. Philibosian had been Cooley’s campaign mentor and Van de Kamp headed his transition team.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ruth Kwan administered the oath of office, as she was to do again in 2004 and 2008. Chances are that if Cooley succeeds in his current quest to gain election as state attorney general in November, it will be Kwan who swears him in.

STATUS REPORT: This takes us up to the end of 2000.

So far, I’ve taken a look in this series, which began July 7, 2006, at DAs serving Los Angeles County, starting with the first, William C. Ferrell, who gained election April 1, 1850. He was district attorney of California’s First District, which included San Diego County.

Among those who have served as DAs, as seen, have been one who wound up in San Quentin for taking a bribe; at least a couple of others who should have been sent there, one of them going on to become state attorney general but losing a libel action against columnist Drew Pearson who accused him of accepting a bribe, the other eventually taking his own life; a man who was elected though sickly, and who died in office; and an incorruptible but temperamental oddball who was found in contempt of court for slugging his opposing counsel in the courtroom and who pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors in connection with the matter.

Two of the better DAs went on to become AG. One in the 1800s become a U.S. senator of considerable distinction.

As indicated earlier, I’ll leave it to my successor in 2100 to review the administrations of the DAs of the 21st Century. But that isn’t to say this series is concluded. There are some loose ends.

The seventh installment, on August 28, 2006, begins:

“Steve Cooley is listed on his office’s website as the 40th district attorney of Los Angeles County. He isn’t. He’s the 41st.”

The column explains that “the DA elected in 1867, Albert B. Chapman, had also headed the office for roughly six months in 1863-64.” He was, it appeared, the ninth DA, as well as the 11th.

The website was changed to reflect the missing DA I’d found.

Well, as it turns out, Cooley is not the 41st DA. I’ll explain that in the next column.

FOOTNOTE: Just as in 2000 when Garcetti denounced Cooley’s receipt of campaign donations from judges, a controversy has been manufactured this year over moneys bestowed by jurists on Republican Cooley, as well as his Democratic rival for the attorney general’s post, San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris.

On the front page of the Sept. 1 edition of the Los Angeles Daily Journal is a top-of-the-page, three-column headline reading, “Judicial Donations in AG Race Raise Ethics Concerns.” A smaller one-column headline underneath says: “More Than 60 Judges Gave To Candidates Who Would Sit On Appointments Commission.” The article, by staff writer Brandon Ortiz, begins:

“Dozens of sitting judges have donated money to hopefuls for attorney general, a position that carries with it a powerful seat on a panel that can veto appointments to the state’s appellate courts and Supreme Court.

“Since February, Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley’s campaign for attorney general received a total of $18.000 from 60 sitting judges, more than three times the amount California judges have contributed to all other statewide candidates combined, according to campaign finance disclosures filed last month.”

The article recites that Harris had received $1,150 from the eight judges contributing to her.

The whole to-do is tied to a comment by the executive director of Common Cause, Kathay Feng, that “anybody” sitting on the Commission on Judicial Appointments—that is, the chief justice, the attorney general, and a senior presiding justice of the Court of Appeal—“should not accept contributions from judges.” She’s saying, by necessary implication, that judges shouldn’t be making them. 

Feng, an attorney, explained that the next AG might show preference for nominees who had been campaign backers.

That’s asinine. Members of the commission do not make appointments. They can’t choose their favorites. They simply vote to confirm or not confirm a governor’s nomination and, on but rare occasion, vote to confirm. The notion that an AG would ding a worthy nominee who hadn’t contributed or a vote in favor of a dolt who had would be fanciful even if the amounts of contributions were not set at a relatively low maximum.

Major play was given by the DJ to a supposed controversy founded on but a single comment from a lawyer, a comment of near-crackpot variety.

Twenty four Los Angeles Superior Court judges have contributed to Cooley the full amount permitted under the Code of Judicial Ethics, $500. They are Judges Conrad Aragon, Tricia Bigelow (now a Court of Appeal presiding justice), Judith L. Champagne, Joseph F. Devanon, Eleanor J. Hunter, John Ing, Mark C. Kim, Arthur M. Lew, Peter Lichtman, George Lomeli, Lyle M. Mackenzie, Louis Meisinger, Anthony Mohr, Thomas Ong, William Pounders, Carol Rehm, Ronald Rose, Robert Schuit, Norman J. Shapiro, Philip Soto, Richard Stone, Rolf Treu, Thomas White and Mark Windham. Also, Orange Superior Court Judge Frederick Horn gave $500. Judge Mary Ann Murphy is listed as a donor of $401 (suggesting she might have previously given $99, one dollar below the amount that’s reportable).

Tossing $400 in the kitty was Judge Alan S. Rosenfield, and $300 was added by Judge Raul Sahagun.

Other judges giving money to the campaign were Mark Arnold, Elihu Berle, Kevin Brazile, Charles Chung, Carol Williams Elwick, Lori Ann Fournier, Reva G. Goetz, Lesley Green, Terry Green, Martin Herscovitz, Philip Hickok, John Ing, Roger Tetsuo Ito, Karla Kerlin, Clifford Klein, Ross Klein, Ruth Kwan, Bernie Laforteza, Michael Latin, Daniel S. Lopez, Cynthia U. Matern [Cynthia Ulfig], Sally Meloch, David L. Minning, Craig Mitchell, Lisa M. Morrison [Lisa Chung], Daniel Murphy, Richard Neidorf, Benny C. Osorio, Mel Recana, John Reid, Dorothy B. Reyes, Olivio Rosales, Thomas Rubinson, Douglas Sortino, Susan Speer, Gary Tanaka, and Victor Wright.

Also, Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Michele Flurer chipped in $500, and the “Committee to Reelect David Wesley to the Superior Court” parted with $500 in surplus funds. Several judges’ spouses wrote checks.

The contributions to Cooley or Harris can hardly be viewed as unethical in light of a canon that says that such contributions may be made….as well as the First Amendment, which covers political contributions as a form of speech.

Unethical? To the contrary, judges who take money out of their pockets to promote the election of the candidate they see as better able to serve as chief lawyer for the state reflects a commendable devotion to the justice system.


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