Los Angeles City Attorney
EVIN JAMES is the only one of the seven candidates for Los Angeles city attorney with demonstrated fitness to direct the city’s squad of prosecutors and to head the law office that advises public officials and departments, deals with threatened litigation, and provides representation in court.
He’s a lawyer with keen knowledge of city operations. He served seven years as president of the City of Los Angeles Board of Public Works and has done legal work at the behest of the mayor as chief of legislative affairs.
James has savvy both as to criminal prosecutions and civil litigation. He’s a former assistant U.S. attorney and has practiced with law firms including Gibson Dunn & Crutcher.
A former radio talk show host, he is adept at communicating.
The candidate is personable, level-headed, and someone who rolls up his sleeves and gets tasks accomplished.
HERE HAS NOT BEEN, IN OUR VIEW, an able Los Angeles city attorney since Burt Pines, who left office in 1981 (and went on to serve, admirably, as a Los Angeles Superior Court judge).
There was one city attorney who was downright lazy, putting in short hours (and was rewarded by being elected mayor and is now a Superior Court judge) and another who turned out to be serial liar (and was defeated in his quest for election as district attorney and lost his reelection bid as city attorney). And we now have an incumbent whose role in the Department of Water and Power scandal has not yet been judicially determined but who has lost credibility, and is running for mayor, with his campaign fittingly floundering.
And there were two city attorneys—Ira Reiner, 1981–85 (later a one-term district attorney) and Rocky Delgadillo, 2001–09 (later nothing)—each of whom had an overriding mission: garnering publicity. They were showboaters.
That’s what at least one of the current candidates for city attorney would be, if voters engaged in such folly as to elect him: Deputy City Attorney Richard Kim.
OMPARE KIM’S APPROACH to corruption in city government with that of James. Kim’s campaign website proclaims:
“Richard won’t twiddle his thumbs and bemoan corruption at City Hall, he’ll create an ethics czar to wipe it out.”
He won’t twiddle, but spews twaddle. Most corruption on the part of government officials entails felonious conduct—and a city attorney only prosecutes misdemeanors. And keep in mind that city officials are civil clients of the city attorney. An ex-journalist, now publicist, is an ill-chosen mouthpiece for Kim; he tries to rationalize the candidate’s efforts to portray himself as a super-hero who will eradicate corruption in city government, and fails.
What does James say about corruption? Here’s his pledge:
“Create an Anti-corruption Task Force, led by senior leadership in the City Attorney’s Office Criminal Division, and invite representation from the City Controller’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office, the United States Attorney’s Office, and from two local University faculty/administrations. Our office will also create an ‘Anti-Corruption Institute’—consisting of training sessions and training materials to educate stakeholders, including city staff and contractor staff on how to recognize corruption, and how to report it. We will rely on the expertise of our partner prosecutor agencies to share state of the art technologies in discovering and investigating corrupt conduct. An anti-corruption hotline/website will also be established that will include a reward program. I will raise funding for the reward program, and will challenge other political offices to provide funding from their own discretionary accounts as well.”
James does not utter a phony, grandiose proclamation that he will eradicate corruption in the City of Los Angeles but, rather, tells of plans for such feasible and constructive efforts as instituting training programs to create an ability to spot sleazy activities that need to be reported.
AMES HAS AN EXTENSIVE PLATFORM stuffed with other achievable goals, most marked by inventiveness. These include streamlining appeals of parking tickets including the creation of an “app” to facilitate the process.
He wants to set up a Public Records Act Response Unit to work with city departments “to provide legal advice regarding responses to PRA requests, and to work with the departments to insure that PRA responses are provided in a timely manner in order to avoid lawsuits against the City for failure to provide such responses (timely or otherwise).” The office-seeker proposes designating a deputy as “chief cyber security attorney” who would “provide expertise on the proper support and use of strategic and tactical information networks available to fight the growing number of cyber attacks that are happening in every industry in the city.”
James says he would name a “chief technology attorney” who would “provide expertise on new and available technologies that improve the way the City Attorney’s Office delivers legal services to the City and to L.A. residents, particularly in the area of consumer protection,” remarking:
“Technology has significantly improved the way we deliver city services in departments throughout the City, and I saw it first hand as President of the Board of Public Works since 2013. The same success can continue in the City Attorney’s Office.”
HIEF AMONG JAMES’S RIVALS is Marina Torres, a former assistant U.S. attorney, now in part-time private practice. To begin with, her name should not be on the ballot—and that should have been both the beginning and end of any discussion. The city Charter provides:
“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….”
Torres was not “qualified” to practice in any California court in the five-year period preceding the election because she was, during part of the period, on inactive status and any such law practice would have constituted a misdemeanor and a contempt.
Lamentably, as discussed here before, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff, though one of the ablest members of his court, in this instance erred—manifestly, in our view—in rebuffing a writ challenge to Torres’s candidacy. He failed to grasp that there are differing definitions of “qualified” and applied one that cannot reasonably be concluded to be within the contemplation of the Charter provision.
O, TORRES IS ALLOWED TO RUN, as is attorney Sherri Onica Valle Cole, who was also on inactive status during a portion of the relevant period.
Torres has a chance of winning. Cole—though possessed of some admirable qualities, which we observed in her unsuccessful runs for a Superior Court judgeship—is underfinanced and does not have a realistic prospect of prevailing. (And the fact is that she is seeking to head an office in which she served as a deputy, had conflicts with management, and was fired.)
Given the number of candidates, it is inevitable that there will be no victor in the June 7 primary. Should Torres win in a November run-off, state Attorney General Rob Bonta (or his successor if a challenger defeats him) would be derelict if an action in quo warranto were not instituted to determine the legitimacy of Torres holding office.
We do hope that the need for such a determination does not arise.
EYOND THE SCOPE OF THE MATTER before Beckloff is the fact that Torres has the vote-attracting ballot designation of “Federal Corruption Prosecutor.” She is not a federal prosecutor of any sort now, and under a provision of the state Code of Regulations, a former job may only be listed if a candidate lacks a present position.
And, in any event, it does not appear that she has ever been a “Corruption Prosecutor”; she primarily handled narcotics smuggling cases.
A spokesperson for her campaign has pointed to the arrest last month of a former Transportation Security Administration officer who is alleged to have been involved in smuggling narcotics through the Los Angeles International Airport. This was “one of Ms. Torres’ most significant matters” in her former capacity in the Department of Justice, he declared, arguing that it justifies the “Corruption Prosecutor” label.
Hogwash. If a robber or rapist just happened to be a government employee, that would hardly indicate that a prosecution of the person was based on “corruption,” as that term is commonly construed.
The candidate seeks to perpetrate a fraud on voters, portraying herself as a prosecutor who protects the public by going after crooked office-holders when, in truth, she doesn’t do that, and never did.
ORRES’S ETHICAL STANDARDS APPEAR to be on a par with those of former City Attorney Carmen Trutanich—a serial liar who beat off State Bar disciplinary proceedings only because his use of false testimony in a murder case, as a deputy district attorney, occurred too far in the past—and Richard Alatorre, an ex-City Council member remembered for his ethics violations, backroom deals, admitted felony tax evasion, and repeated receipt of secret cash payments.
It is revealing that Torres boasts of the endorsements of Trutanich and Alatorre.
We’ve had all too many unprincipled city officials such as Trutanich and Alatorre. We don’t need another; we don’t need Torres.
Also running for city attorney are Teddy Kapur, Hydee Feldstein Soto, and Faisal Gill. None of them comes anywhere near to possessing the requisite credentials.
There is only one suitable candidate for the post: Kevin James. We endorse him.
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