Los Angeles City Attorney
HERE WERE SEVEN CONTESTANTS this year for the post of Los Angeles city attorney. Only one, in our view, is suited for the post: former Board of Public Works Chair Kevin James. We endorsed him. He came in fifth in the balloting.
The frontrunner was Faisal M. Gill, who grabbed 24.23 percent of the votes, followed by Hydee Feldstein Soto, who attracted 19.9 percent.
We favor Soto, but do not endorse her with relish. She claims on her campaign webpage:
“I spent my career overcoming institutional hurdles to become one of the country’s most respected attorneys….” One of the most respected attorneys in the United States? That goes beyond acceptable campaign hype; it’s utter nonsense. Until she became a candidate, Soto was an obscure lawyer.
She makes sweeping promises—some of which relate to matters over which a city attorney has no authority—and points to nothing in her background reflecting an ability to lead a law office with more than 500 attorneys, handling both civil and criminal matters. Soto has no experience in city government beyond serving on a neighborhood council.
But perhaps the gusto she has demonstrated as a campaigner signals that she would, if elected, devote energies to the office, in contrast to City Attorney James Hahn (1985-2001) who, during his three-term stint demonstrated laziness. (He progressed in office based on the Hahn name; his father was a well-liked county supervisor.)
Los Angeles has had a string of city attorneys over the past 41 years lacking in capacity, and there’s no reason to suspect that Soto would do any worse a job than they, and just might do better. Who knows?
With no record of performance to judge her by, it’s impossible to assess how she would perform in office.
ILL, ON THE OTHER HAND, gives every indication of being someone who would misuse and disgrace the office.
In campaigning, he bills himself as a “progressive Democrat.” Yet, it is a nonpartisan post that he seeks and his injection of partisan politics is inappropriate and reflective of poor judgment.
Shoddy judgment also underlies his proposed 100-day moratorium on prosecuting those accused of committing misdemeanors. What that means is an announced 100-day dereliction of his duties as the city’s chief prosecutor, should he be elected.
Gill is anti-Los Angeles Police Department (“LAPD”). He’s a blistering critic of it—and that creates a problem. Prosecutors, in prosecuting, necessarily act in tandem with the police. How can there be effective teamwork between the police and an office led by a man who is utilizing words and resources to denigrate and impede the police?
The candidate proclaims:
“The City Attorney is not elected to defend the police; they are elected to defend the city of Los Angeles and the people that make up that city.”
That’s partially true. The city attorney does defend the city in litigation (as well as bringing actions on its behalf). But it is inaccurate to say that a city attorney does not defend police officers. Sec. 272 of the city Charter provides: “The City Attorney shall defend the City in litigation, as well as its officers and employees as provided by ordinance.” (Also, §20.26 of the city Administrative Code says: “The City Attorney shall represent the City of Los Angeles, its officers and employees in all litigation.”)
The city attorney is the lawyer for police officers who are sued over their conduct in the course of carrying out duties.
(The city attorney does not “defend” the people. In civil cases, the city attorney defends the city and its officers and employees; in criminal cases, he or she prosecutes people who appear to it to have committed misdemeanors.)
ILL DOES REALIZE, DESPITE HIS rather foolish assertion that a city attorney does not defend the police, that the office has a unit that does just that. His awareness may be discerned this and other statements by him:
“I will create an independent office within the City Attorney’s office, walled off from the Police Defense Unit, that is devoted to investigating and overseeing the LAPD and its compliance with state, local and federal laws.”
Overseeing the LAPD? And from whence does the city attorney derive such authority?
He also trumpets:
“As City Attorney, I will engage in regular internal audits of LAPD’s compliance with constitutional rights and track the progress they make in fulfilling promises of reform.”
Oh? Where in the city Charter is the city attorney authorized to expend department funds conducting audits of city departments?
N ETHICAL ISSUE ARISES. Look at these statements Gill makes:
•“My role may include defending the city, and by extension, the LAPD, when lawsuits are brought against it. However, I will use that role—and the responsibility that comes with it—to shine a light on misconduct and bring transparency to the relationship between the city, the LAPD, and the public.”
•“I will also use the settlement process to prevent future harm. If an officer is a repeat offender, for example, I will use my discretion to provide for censure of that officer as a term of the settlement.”
•“When a civilian sues the city, it’s the City Attorney who takes that case because it’s their job to defend the city—and, by extension, its police force—in lawsuits. If I’m elected, that will still be the City Attorney’s role. However, I will not abuse this role. I will not use this power to act as a shield for police wrongdoing, or to hide the truth from the public. I will carry out my legal duties, but I will do so openly, publicly and impartially. I will not twist the truth or hide evidence in order to defend actions that are clearly indefensible. I’ll allow these actions to be exposed for what they are, regardless of the consequences.”
It is the duty of a judge to display impartiality. That’s not the duty of a criminal defense lawyer. Rather, that lawyer is an advocate, a partisan, a surrogate, a champion of the client’s interests—obliged to put forth all plausible positions that might, without resorting to deception, be advanced. To do less than that is malpractice.
Gill says he would not “defend actions that are clearly indefensible.” OK. However, he is also saying that where an action is defensible, in his view, he would still “shine a light on misconduct” by police and conduct defenses “openly” and “publicly.” He could not possibly not keep that pledge in all cases and still maintain client confidences. This newspaper is second to none in opposing public matters being concealed by the government from the public, but client confidences are not public matters.
The upshot would be that accused police officers would not present a full picture to the deputy city attorney assigned to the case for fear of making admissions on which a light would later be shone by Gill, thereby putting that deputy at a disadvantage in conducting the defense, not knowing what of a damaging nature might come up, what would need to be counteracted. Gill is promising that, if elected, he would not be entirely on the side of officers his deputies were defending—might even engineer a censure (by the State Bar?) as part of a settlement—and consequently would be providing inadequate representation.
He is making a pledge of incompetence.
HE STATE BAR PLACED GILL on involuntary inactive status as of July 1 due to MCLE noncompliance. He was reinstated as an active member on July 13.
The Los Angeles Times brought that to light on Friday. It quoted Gill as shrugging the matter off as “a small administrative oversight” on his part.
It was more than that. In light of multiple reminders from the State Bar that he was in noncompliance, with notice as to the consequence if he did not complete the necessary hours before July 1, it reflected sloppiness and irresponsibility on Gill’s part in conducting his own affairs.
The State Bar of Colorado has also placed Gill on involuntary inactive status based on MCLE noncompliance, but that hardly matters. He has no law practice there. He does maintain a law office in Glendale. For a practicing lawyer to lose active status while representing clients cannot reasonably be dismissed as an insignificant slip-up.
EYOND THAT LIES AN ISSUE of major significance to the election, in our view, and to anyone who gives a hoot about whether a candidate actually qualifies for the office being sought. But that matter did not prove to be much of a concern during the primary in connection with another contender for the same office, and is not apt to draw the attention it warrants.
Plainly, Gill is, under the city Charter, ineligible for election. Section 270 spells out:
“The City Attorney must be qualified to practice in all the courts of the state, and must have been so qualified for at least five years immediately preceding his or her election.”
(To like effect is Administrative Code §20.20.)
During the 12-day lapse in his active membership, Gill was not “qualified” to practice law because he was not licensed to do so.
He is disqualified, by virtue of the Charter provision, from running for the office of city attorney until the election in 2030, assuming Gill is eligible then by virtue of having been “qualified to practice in all the courts of the state” for the entirety of the five-year period prior to that election.
OS ANGELES SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE Mitchell Beckloff rejected such an argument on March 29 in denying a writ petition brought by a person apparently acting on behalf of city attorney candidate Richard Kim, a deputy city attorney. The petition challenged the entitlement of private practitioner Marina Torres to run for the office; she had been on voluntary inactive status from Feb. 1, 2016 until Jan. 1, 2018.
“Voluntary inactive status dictates whether the attorney may actively engage in the practice of law—not whether the attorney is qualified to practice. Voluntary inactive status operates as a restriction on an attorney otherwise qualified to practice. The voluntarily inactive licensee is qualified to practice law but ineligible to do so.” Beckloff, widely regarded as an first-rate jurist, got that one wrong, we believe. He applied the word “qualified” in the sense of fitness. It does have that meaning, but has others. In context, “qualified,” as used in the Charter provision, means legally eligible or legally entitled. Someone who has been admitted to the State Bar but is on inactive status is not “qualified” to practice law as a legal matter, no matter how able, because doing so would be a misdemeanor.
One can be fit but not eligible or eligible but not fit. By way of example, we would assert that that Los Angeles Superior Court candidates Carolyn “Young” Park and Elizabeth Lashley-Haynes, while “qualified” for judgeships so far as eligibility—both meet the state constitutional requirement of having been admitted to the State Bar for 10 years—are nowhere near “qualified” in terms of fitness.
Accordingly, what ought to occur on Nov. 8 is a run-off between Soto and the next highest vote-getter in the primary who is legally qualified for office: Kim, who drew 15.5 percent of the vote (behind Torres, who garnered 19.87 percent). But that is not apt to happen.
S TO GILL, WE BELIEVE HE IS unqualified in terms of a lack of demonstrated capability as well failing to meet the requisites for office. He is lacking in judgment and nothing in his background has prepared him for the task of heading a massive government law office.
He appears to be a political chameleon who is running now as a “progressive Democrat” in the heavily Democratic City of Los Angeles, to which he recently moved, apparently thinking he is in tune with current sentiment here. Gill, whose law degree is from the American University in the District of Columbia, in 2007 ran unsuccessfully for the Virginia House of Delegates as a Republican. He took a strong stance against illegal immigration and, the Washington Post reported on Nov. 1 of that year, he “proposes to penalize employers who hire illegal immigrants by making the crime a felony.” Gill then ran as a Democrat in 2016 for the state Senate in Vermont, losing in the primary. A Vermont weekly newspaper, Seven Days, in December 2016 said, in reporting on an interview with Gill:
“Why did he switch parties? Gill said he didn’t leave the GOP; the party left him when it turned sharply to the right on immigration and other issues.”
He served as Vermont’s Democratic Party chair the following year, and came to Los Angeles the year after that. Gill did reside in Southern California briefly after departing Virginia and before settling in Vermont, but does not know the city or its players, and his practice in California courts has been of scant duration.
If he loses the race for city attorney, where will he move to next and seek office?
Soto is not an ideal candidate, but as between her and Gill, we urge her election.
Copyright 2022, Metropolitan News Company