Tuesday, September 1, 2020
By Roger M. Grace
Xavier Becerra is a man with an obsession.
The primary mission upon which he is embarked is not that of fulfilling the constitutional duties of the state attorney general. Specified duties are seeing “that the laws of the State are uniformly and adequately enforced,” supervising district attorneys, sheriffs and other law enforcement officers and requiring “any of said officers to make reports concerning the investigation, detection, prosecution, and punishment of crime in their respective jurisdictions” as he may deem advisable, and, where necessary, assuming or assisting in prosecutions.
Carrying out those functions, as well as his statutory duties, comes second to the Grand Cause to which he is devoted, almost fanatically. His quest is one of a personal and political nature.
Becerra wants to “get Trump.”
He seeks to stand out as the nation’s chief antagonist of the president, his denigration of Trump taking precedence over the prosecution of California criminals and representation of state interests in state civil disputes.
It is abnormal for a state A.G. to prefer, as Becerra does, to litigate in federal, rather the state, court.
The Los Angeles Times reported on Saturday:
“California reached a milestone Friday in its long-standing feud with President Trump when Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra announced he has filed his 100th lawsuit against the administration, this time challenging changes in environmental law.”
I would think that it’s not so much a matter of California engaging in a feud with the president as it is a matter of Becerra seeking a bolstering of his image by portraying the occupant of the nation’s highest office as a bogeyman, and himself as our brave protector from this most powerful of evildoers.
As the Times notes:
“Capitol observers say Becerra’s record has helped establish him as a chief litigator against the Republican president, which could benefit him politically in heavily Democratic California.”
One critic says of the A.G. (in an email to me on Sunday):
“The fact he was inactive with the bar for 26 years and missed all those years of mandatory MCLE really shows in how he runs the AG’s office—-a whore house prostituted to advance his political objectives. He is a disgrace to the profession.”
There’s no question as to Becerra’s power to sue in pursuit of the public interest. A 1963 Third District Court of Appeal decision says:
“As chief law officer of the state the Attorney General has broad common law powers. In the absence of legislative restriction he has the power to file any civil action which he deems necessary for the enforcement of the laws of the state and the protection of public rights and interests.”
But Becerra’s preoccupation with bringing or joining actions challenging policies or practices of the federal government—consistently ballyhooing them as actions against the “Trump Administration” rather than the federal agency or official directly involved—causes the question to be raised as to whether the Attorney General is, indeed, pursuing the public’s interests.
The Times notes that the roughly $16 million Becerra’s office has spent on the anti-Trump litigation is 1.47 percent of its budget. While that is, of course, not a large percentage, it is still entails a sizeable amount of money—and to the extent the expenditure was for the primary purpose of enhancing Becerra’s political posture, it was a de facto diversion of state funds for an improper purpose.
Except for judges, public officials do have the prerogative, in some instances an obligation, to speak out on public issues. I do see a problem, however, in Becerra utilizing state resources to churn out and disseminate an unremitting stream of Trump-bashing press releases.
Here are headings on press releases over just the past two months (which typify press releases month after month):
•Attorney General Becerra Secures Victory in Lawsuit Challenging Trump Administration Decision to Cut Penalties for Automaker Violations of Fuel Efficiency Standards
•Attorneys General Becerra and Ferguson Lead Lawsuit Challenging Trump Administration Rule Curtailing Environmental Review of Federal Actions
•Attorney General Becerra Secures Early Court Victory Against Trump Administration Attack on Pandemic Relief Funds for Public Schools
•Attorney General Becerra to Challenge De Facto Trump Administration Attack on Free and Fair Election
•Attorney General Becerra Applauds Court Decision Rejecting Trump Administration’s Unlawful Reinterpretation of Longstanding Protections for Migratory Birds
•Attorney General Becerra Leads Multistate Coalition in Fight Against Trump Anti-Immigrant Proclamations
•Attorney General Becerra Leads Multistate Amicus Brief Supporting Challenge to Trump Administration’s Healthcare Refusal Rule
•Attorney General Becerra Continues Fight Against Trump Administration Effort to Block Access to Asylum
•Attorney General Becerra Leads Lawsuit Challenging Unlawful Trump Administration Attack on Complete, Accurate Census Count
•Attorney General Becerra Slams Patently Unlawful Trump Attack on Complete, Accurate Census Count
•Attorney General Becerra Files Brief Challenging the Trump Administration’s Removal of Critical Worker Protections in Pork Slaughterhouses
•Attorney General Becerra Files Multistate Lawsuit Challenging Trump Administration Rule Curtailing States’ Clean Water Act Authority
•Attorney General Becerra Files Lawsuit Challenging Trump Administration Rule Undermining Critical Mercury Pollution Limits
•Attorney General Becerra Files Lawsuit Challenging Trump Administration’s Rule Rolling Back ACA Healthcare Anti-Discrimination Protections
•Attorney General Becerra Renews Challenge to Trump Administration Decision to Restart Federal Coal Leasing Program
•Attorney General Becerra Leads Coalition in Opposing Trump Administration Effort to Upend Existing Asylum System
•Attorney General Becerra Slams Trump Administration Rule Undermining Critical Environmental Review of Federal Projects
•Attorney General Becerra Issues Statement Following Trump Administration’s Decision to Ditch Dangerous Student Visa Directive
•Attorney General Becerra Seeks Court Order to Immediately Halt Unlawful Trump Administration Policy Threatening Health and Safety at Colleges and Universities During COVID-19
•Attorney General Becerra Secures Court Decision Against Trump Administration Protecting Millions in Public Safety Funds for California
•Attorney General Becerra, State Public Education Leaders Sue Trump Administration for Arbitrary Policy That Threatens to Spread COVID-19 in Colleges Across the Country
•Attorney General Becerra Slams Trump Administration Over Proposed Handouts to Utility Companies
Even those press releases that don’t mention the “Trump Administration” in the heading are apt to take sideswipes at it in the text. Here are examples from July and August (with bold-facing in the original):
Aug. 19: “California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today issued the following statement in response to the announcement that the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) case on November 10, 2020: [¶] ‘Why President Trump and 18 states have decided to go all the way to the Supreme Court to rip away the Affordable Care Act at a time when our nation is suffering the worst pandemic we’ve seen in more than a century makes no sense.’ ”
Aug. 11: “ ‘We are in the middle of a global health crisis in which millions of Americans have lost their jobs and their health insurance,’ said Attorney General Becerra. ‘So what does the Trump Administration propose? A rule that would treat junk insurance plans as the real deal.’ ”
Aug. 10: “ ‘The Trump Administration’s playbook of delay and deception is robbing our communities of the cost-saving benefits of reduced energy consumption,’ said Attorney General Becerra.”
July 29: “California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, leading a coalition of 20 states and D.C., today filed a reply brief in the U.S. Supreme Court defending the Affordable Care Act (ACA) against a lawsuit filed by the State of Texas and the Trump Administration that would dismantle the entire ACA, putting the healthcare of tens of millions of Americans at risk.”
Becerra evidently has a fixation on Trump.
He portrays himself as the courageous knight rescuing the citizenry from a dragon…though there appears to be more of a Don Quixote in him than a St. George.
The Times article quotes Becerra as saying:
“I am surprised that any president in any administration would at least 100 times be caught red handed violating the law.”
It is surprising—and deplorable—that a state attorney general would continually divert funds from state coffers to his partisan and publicity-seeking battle against the president.
Earlier this year, before the pandemic hit, Becerra delivered remarks before the Italian American Lawyers Association. My wife and I were there, though not to hear the A.G.; Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge Kevin Brazile was the speaker/honoree.
I must say that when Becerra spoke, my wife and I heard a man cogently put forth a reasoned position on political matters.
But it wasn’t Becerra to whom we were listening. My wife and I retreated to the bar while Becerra spoke. So did former District Attorney Steve Cooley.
While others were subjected to the palavering of an oily politico, we were treated to words of wisdom from the bartender.
STELLAR PERFORMANCE: Speaking of the IALA…its president, Terri Macellaro, is a miracle-worker.
She started out the year with a goal of attracting big attendance by rounding up top speakers. When the pandemic hit, she wasn’t daunted.
No meetings can be held at Casa Italiana, the usual meeting place, located just north of Chinatown. Like other groups, the IALA has held “meetings” via Zoom.
But these aren’t pro forma meetings. So large has been the desire to participate that signing up has been cut off to avoid the electronic get-togethers from becoming too cumbersome.
In July, with an estimated 136 persons logging on, the main speaker was Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Comic Jay Leno and actor Joe Mantegna participated.
I’m Zoom-illiterate and did not participate, but from all accounts, it was an upbeat, lively meeting.
For last month’s meeting, Macellaro succeeded in lining up U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito—quite a feat. It was “Gaelic and Garlic Night”—an annual event held in tandem with the Irish American Bar Association. Macellaro and the IABA president, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Daniel Crowley, each conducted a separate question-and-answer session with the jurist.
Alito was introduced by former Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Solner and Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mary Ann Murphy introduced U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who also participated.
Alito is a baseball fan. So, Macellaro secured the participation of Italian American Hall of Famer Tony LaRussa. A Florida lawyer and the founder of an animal rescue organization, he hailed the dissenting opinion by Alito in the 2010 case of U.S. v. Stephens. The majority declared unconstitutional a federal statute that criminalized the creation or distribution of videos depicting animal cruelty; Alito wanted to uphold it.
Also participating were Philadelphia Phillies Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt and the Phillies’s manager, Joe Girardi.
More than 200 persons logged on, I’m told.
This month, Macellaro will be doing what seems impossible: staging a “New York street fair.” The IALA’s 2018 president, Alice Salvo, put together the first such event the year she was at the helm, and it was recreated last year. There were several booths, each offering different items, such as meatballs, pizza, and gelato.
How that’s going to work with participants in their homes or offices, I can’t imagine, but I suspect it will be another success.
Another annual event, usually held in November, is a wine tasting. How will Macellaro put that together?
Kudos to Macellaro for her resourcefulness and drive.
Copyright 2020, Metropolitan News Company