Friday, May 10, 2013
Los Angeles City Attorney
To re-elect Carmen Trutanich as Los Angeles city attorney would be unthinkable.
Trutanich—whose candidacy we embraced four years ago—has been a disappointment to many. He’s proved to be a bully, a bloviator, a buffoon.
His primary failing is, of course, his inability to stick to the truth.
He demonstrated that in his campaign last year for district attorney; he is equally dishonest in his present reelection effort.
rutanich signed a pledge on Nov. 24, 2008, when first running for city attorney, not to seek other office while city attorney. Unabashedly, he breached that vow, running for district attorney. (The candidate boasted he would win election in the primary; he did not make it into the run-off.)
Not only did he promise not to seek other office during his term, but proclaimed that if he broke his word, he would proffer “a $100,000 fine payable from personal funds to LA’s Best After School Program.” He broke his word; he paid but $10,000 in personal funds, while protesting that no sum was actually due because his election opponent, then-City Council member Jack Weiss, did not also sign the pledge.
That was nonsense. While he did challenge Weiss to join him in signing the pledge—which the city lawmaker did not do—Trutanich’s own promise was not conditioned on Weiss’s participation. Trutanich had made an unconditional, flat-out commitment.
Trutanich’s pledge contained an assurance that if he violated it, he would additionally atone by personally paying for a full-page ad in the Sunday edition of every daily newspaper in the city which contained his photograph and the words, “I AM A LIAR” in “large block print.”
He placed no such ad.
n the course of his 2012 campaign for district attorney, Trutanich…
•Gave an account he could not substantiate—and which was highly questionable—as to being shot at by gang members while a deputy district attorney in the mid-1980s.
•Called upon the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office to provide his personnel file, purportedly because it would show that the much-questioned shooting incident had actually taken place. When the file was not produced, he publicly asked that Attorney General Kamala Harris probe the “suspicious political activity” in the DA’s Office. District Attorney Steve Cooley was supporting the candidacy of his chief deputy, Jackie Lacey, and the implication was that the file had been secreted to advance Lacey’s chances. It was poppycock—and Trutanich knew it. A Nov. 26, 2008 report to Trutanich by a research outfit he had hired to do a background check on him, to see what might emerge, advised that the file was “no longer maintained” by the office. That was at a time when Cooley was supporting Trutanich for city attorney, and there was no conceivable reason for not accommodating a request to supply the file, if it existed. Thus, the city attorney of Los Angeles, knowing at least since 2008 that his own personnel file, like others of their vintage, had been dumped, falsely complained to the state attorney general of a supposed malefaction by the district attorney of the county. Such gross irresponsibility and abandonment of ethics point to Trutanich’s utter unfitness for public office.
•Sought to be listed on the ballot as “Los Angeles Chief Prosecutor.” Running for a county office, the implication was that he was the county’s “chief prosecutor”—that is, the district attorney Retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Joseph Kalin, sitting on assignment, found the ballot designation misleading and disallowed it.
•Listed three law enforcement groups as supporting his candidacy when they had taken no position in the race. His misrepresentation came on an Association of Deputy District Attorneys questionnaire when he was seeking the group’s endorsement.
•Claimed in a radio interview that he “came up” with a program that entailed use of citations for minor code violations rather than criminal charges being instituted. His own chief deputy admitted to the MetNews that it was not a Trutanich innovation, saying: “[W]e saw other cities were already doing it.”
n the course of his present campaign for reelection, Trutanich…
•Is slamming his rival, former state Assembly member Mike Feuer, for having been a co-author of AB 109, the prison realignment bill. The measure, though lifting some expense to the state, shifts responsibility for the housing or supervised release of some convicts to local government. AB 109 was short-sighted and contrary to the public welfare, and we question the judgment of its proponents—who, obviously, include Feuer. However, it also includes Trutanich. What our wily city attorney does not mention is that, after passage of AB 109 in 2011, he became a vocal booster of the scheme…perhaps, as some have speculated, taking his stance, while in the race for district attorney, as a quid pro quo for the endorsement of him by the measure’s prime architect, Gov. Jerry Brown. Whether that’s so or not, it is a fact that Trutanich warmly embraced the very approach he now lambastes Feuer for propagating. This is sheer hypocrisy, an arrogant effort to get by with the creation of an illusion.
•Is belittling Feuer in a campaign mailer because he “HAS NEVER PROSECUTED A RAPE CASE” and has “NEVER PROSECUTED A MURDER CASE.” This reminds us of a 1978 judicial campaign in which a challenger, at the last minute, railed in advertising that the incumbent had never sent a defendant to state prison. The statement was true; the implication was false. The incumbent, Gilbert Alston, was a judge of the Pasadena Municipal Court (winning reelection that year, later serving on the Superior Court, now deceased). In sentencing convicted misdemeanants, Alston could not and did not send any to state prison. Trutanich’s mailer is not quite so blatantly deceptive, but does seek to convey a false impression. The seeming expose that Feuer has never prosecuted anyone for rape or murder strongly implies that the City Attorney’s Office prosecutes those, and presumably other, felonies, when it doesn’t.
•Is bashing Feuer, in that campaign piece, because Feuer has not prosecuted any criminal case “EVER.” That does, legitimately, point to Feuer’s lack of background in criminal law—and, yes, that would handicap him, somewhat, in heading an office with both prosecutorial and civil functions. A handicap is, however, not a disqualification. An obvious example is that a judge is handicapped who, as an attorney, had practiced solely in the criminal or civil arena—yet innumerable civil attorneys have gone on to function admirably as criminal court judges and countless prosecutors and criminal defense lawyers have subsequently presided deftly over civil cases. The same state and federal constitutions apply to both the civil and criminal areas of law; the same Evidence Code pertains; procedures are basically the same. What counts most in dealing with legal cases, civil or criminal, is a grasp of fundamental legal precepts and a possession of legal reasoning ability, and not the particular area of law to which a lawyer’s practice had previously been confined. We doubt that Feuer, who graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School, will have difficulty in making prosecutorial calls, to the limited extent such calls from the top need be made. (Trutanich, by the way, has a law degree from South Bay University College of Law, an unaccredited school that no longer exists.) The key point is that little of a city attorney’s time is devoted to prosecutorial decisionmaking. A city attorney deals with administration of the office—policy and personnel and budget matters, not deciding which misdemeanor cases to bring to trial and how to try them.
•Is charging in another campaign hit piece that Feuer “CHEATS STEALS LIES.”
►Feuer “cheats,” the mailer asserts, because he “conspires to hide hundreds of thousand of dollars in key political services he’s getting for free from a City Hall insider.” The allegation isn’t explained. It stems from Feuer’s consultant, John Shallman, handling the campaign during the primary without immediate remuneration, with a sizeable “bonus” to come at the end, if Feuer wins. The term “City Hall insider” implies that the person is one who is inside City Hall—that is, someone who works for the city and who should not be performing services for a candidate—or at least is closely connected to those in government, such as power-brokers. Shallman does not work in City Hall—he has an office in a building on Ventura Boulevard—and is not politically connected.
►As to the charge that Feuer “steals,” the flyer charges: “Feuer illegally obtains $300,000 in taxpayer money for his campaign by PROMISING he will obey an ethics spending limit. But in fact Feuer exceeds the spending cap by hiding $250,000 of his campaign’s expenditures.” There is no spending limit to “obey”; candidates voluntarily adhering to it are granted matching funds. Assuming Shallman’s services were worth $250,000, Feuer did not hide $250,000 in “expenditures.” What hasn’t been paid hasn’t been expended. Whether Feuer’s arrangement with Shallman under which the campaign manager temporarily forewent being paid created merely an illusion that Feuer’s spending was under the $1.259 million limit or whether the limit was, in fact, not reached has not yet been adjudicated.
►As to “lies” by Feuer, the mailer insists: “When his shady deal is exposed, Feuer’s cover story is that the city Ethics Commission okayed it. But the five-member Ethics Commission reports that it NEVER met with Feuer about his controversial funding scheme and NEVER approved it.” There is, indeed, lying here—but the lying is on the part of Trutanich. Feuer said he consulted the commission. Obviously, the commission does not sit as a body to give advice. He has explained that the commission’s deputy executive director, David Tristan, gave an assurance that the payment arrangement did not contravene ethics standards. Moreover, the commission has issued no statement that Feuer had not consulted it. Rather, John Schwada, publicist for the Trutanich campaign, made a Public Records Act request for writings that reflect advice having been given the Feuer camp on the fee arrangement, and Artin Berjikly, an attorney who works for the commission, wrote back: “No responsive documents exist.” He declined to supply information that Schwada requested as to any oral advice, that being beyond the scope of the Public Records Act. (Note that when Feuer related that he had received advice from the “commission,” Trutanich interpreted that as a claim that Feuer was advised by all five commissioners, as opposed to a staff member. Yet Trutanich declares that “the five-member Ethics Commission reports” that it did not advise Feuer, when it was, in reality, a single staff member.)
rutanich, it has been observed, did not really win the 2009 city attorney election; rather, his run-off opponent, then-City Council member Jack Weiss, lost it. Weiss had been ineffectual in the Council, and was lacking in popularity.
At present, it does appear that Feuer will win. If he does, it might well be that the chief reason is simply that he is not Trutanich.
And that’s good enough reason, as we see it, to vote for Feuer. Trutanich should not be rewarded with another term. After all of his lying and conniving, there ought to be a “sinking of the Trutanich.”
While Feuer is not, in our view, the ideal candidate, being a bit too politically partisan and a bit too ambitious, we recognize that he is intelligent and capable.
The City of Los Angeles has not had an able city attorney since Burt Pines left office in 1981. We hope that Feuer will be able to fill his shoes.
Copyright 2013, Metropolitan News Company