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LWV League of Women Voters of California Education Fund

Smart Voter
Los Angeles County, CA March 5, 2013 Election
Candidates Answer Questions on the Issues
City Attorney; City of Los Angeles

The questions were prepared by the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles and asked of all candidates for this office.     See below for questions on Most Important Issue, Prioritization of Roles, Enforcement Emphasis

Click on a name for candidate information.   See also more information about this contest.

? 1. What is the single most important issue facing the City Attorney’s Office today, and how would you deal with it?

Answer from Carmen "Nuch" Trutanich:

The city attorney's office must maintain the record of winning for Los Angeles that has been the hallmark of my tenure and has greatly enhanced the office's reputation and its morale.

Our success has not come easily because of the severe budget pressures. Little did I realize upon taking this office in July, 2009 that I would soon lose 125 attorneys and 60 support staff. But instead of whining I went to work - and now the office does more with less. Under my direction, we sharply cut the office's use of expensive outside attorneys and initiated a program to obtain free legal help - worth about $2 million a year - from a battery of selfless private attorneys.

I anticipate that our budget issues will be less demanding in the future, and that I can use the next four years to deepen our commitment to crime prevention, including fighting gun violence, protecting the city's most vulnerable populations (children/women/the homeless/poor immigrants), protecting the environment and ensuring that youthful offenders have additional opportunities to straighten out their lives.

Answer from Mike Feuer:

The most important issue facing the City Attorney's office and my top priority is protecting the public by keeping our neighborhoods safe from gangs, criminals and guns.

Answer from Greg Smith:

I am committed to stopping crime before it starts, easing red tape and other barriers to justice, and targeting discrimination by fostering a robust partnership with community members, educators, and law enforcement across Los Angeles.

Answer from Noel Weiss:

The single most important issue facing the City Attorney's office is how best the office can be used to ensure that there is a proper 'check and balance' on the political excesses often exhibited by the City Council. Well-connected insiders and their expensive lawyers and lobbyists work to try to 'rig' the system in favor of their particular special interest against the broader public interest. The City Attorney, who is chosen by the people, and paid by the people, has a duty to the people to represent the broader public interest in all matters. As City Attorney my first allegiance would be to the people's rights under the social contract they have with their government. Protecting the political 'backside' of council members is not the City Attorney's job. Representing the broader public interest implemented through the public trust that is 'The City of Los Angeles' is the proper role of the City Attorney.

To accomplish this objective, the City Attorney would not represent conflicting legal interests as is now the case. That means all the proprietary Departments (Harbor, Airport, and DWP) would have their own counsel. Likewise, the Pension Plans and other related separate City 'Authorities' (like the Housing Authority, the Convention Center Authority) would have their own counsel. Strict conflict of interest guidelines need to be debated and enacted so the City Council gets the best legal advice possible; advise which is not compromised because the City Attorney represents all legal sides of every issue (as, for example is the case now as between the pension plans (a creditor of the City) and the City (debtor to the pension plans).

I would assign full-time one deputy City Attorney to serve in each of the 15 Council offices full time. . To provide legal advice directly to the Council member on every issue that arises. This would be a prestige position for each of the 15 Deputies chosen for this assignment. The individual so appointed would be a key catalyst in getting problems solved at the grass-roots level, including code enforcement violations, acting much as your individual attorney would act for you. The person so assigned would also draft ordinances. This would aid in getting ordinances drafted faster and facilitating Council debate when proposed ordinances are presented to the Council for passage.

On the criminal side, monies could be saved and efficiencies generated by having the District Attorney prosecute state penal misdemeanor laws, much the same way the District Attorney does for most of the Cities in LA County. Deputy City Attorneys could be deputized as District Attorneys for this purpose. Much time would be saved by LAPD in dealing with one criminal enforcement branch. The City would also obtain the benefit of the investigators employed by the County in connection with such matters.

? 2. The City Attorney’s Office has various roles – prosecution of misdemeanor offenses, legal guidance for City departments and Council, and defense attorney when the City is sued. How would you prioritize these roles? How can all of these roles be fulfilled given the current budget situation?

Answer from Noel Weiss:

State penal misdemeanor prosecutions can be prosecuted by the County District Attorney using specially deputized City Attorneys. This would promote efficiencies within LAPD and the City Attorney's office. I would place a Deputy City Attorney in each Council office. . a prestige position where the Councilperson's needs and those of his or her constituents could be dealt with directly. That would also aid in the prompt drafting of ordinances and providing legal guidance. I would also have the City Attorney's office operate more like a law firm where each attorney would keep track of his or her hours and each department of the City would be 'billed' for the time spent on legal matters. This would identify areas where efficiencies could be generated by the City Attorney's office and all City Departments.

Answer from Carmen "Nuch" Trutanich:

It is quite a balancing act and we have mastered it during a period of severe belt-tightening that slashed our manpower but not our will power to succeed.

Under the legal canon of ethics, an attorney's first obligation is to his clients;when his clients are sued he must be there to represent them. The City Attorney has multiple clients: the city's official family and Los Angeles citizens. The biggest demand on our resources is meeting our obligations to the official family. The city of Los Angeles is sued thousands of times per year; in big and small cases, we've done a bang-up job protecting the city and its taxpayers. We have successfully defended Los Angeles in 134 of 147 lawsuits, saving the city from being forced to pay out $284 million in last-demand civil liability claims. We also advise our clients daily, including all the city agencies and elected officials, and prepare hundreds of ordinances, regulations, contracts, etc. for them. Since July 2009, my office has drafted and submitted more than 200 ordinances and reports yearly that were requested by the city council alone; in effect we produced, with 175 fewer employees, more than the previous administration.

My office also files on average about 50,000 criminal cases (not including citations) per year that are referred to us by the LAPD (which sends about 75 percent of its criminal cases to us for prosecution). And we win the lion's share of these cases. It is a formidable achievement.

But my office also has taken on legal initiatives of choice, not necessity. These choices exemplify our discretionary priorities and my office's committment to our "bigger client," the residents of Los Angeles. A few examples: we chose to sue two big banks that contributed to blight in working class neighborhoods by foreclosing on homes and then letting these properties become eyesores and hangouts for drug-dealing and other lawless behavior; my office elected to sue a financial institution that we allege improperly invested almost a $100 million in city pension fund monies in risky ventures that lost money, costing taxpayers to pick up the tab; and my office chose to use an innovative and powerful legal tool to make it illegal for known drug-dealers to even set foot on Skid-Row where they prey on the unfortunate Skid-Row residents, many of whom are trying to kick their addictions at local rehab clinics.

Answer from Mike Feuer:

For the City Attorney, public safety, particularly safe schools, needs to be a key priority. I would work to save taxpayer dollars by reducing city lawsuit payouts, particularly by curtailing practices and policies that result in liability. That money should fund vital city services, such as more police patrolling in our neighborhoods. I would also expedite writing city laws that promote job creation and economic development.

? 3. What are the main areas in which you would proactively seek to enforce existing ordinances?

Answer from Noel Weiss:

Code enforcement violations need to be more vigorously enforced. I would be proactive on the following twelve fronts: (1) creating settlement protocols in land use cases where enforcement of conditions attached to land use entitlements would occur via mediation and binding arbitration; (2) involving neighborhood councils in a mediation process as it relates to the enforcement of code violations; (3) initiating small claims actions against violators on an aggressive basis, then expeditiously procuring judgments which would be immediately enforceable; (5) making more effective use of the mediation protocol in use now by the City Attorney's office; (6) forming City Attorney Task Forces throughout the City to identify enforcement needs and provide recommended solutions; (7) redrafting ordinances which are the most confusing and poorly written to provide clarity and better ease of execution and enforcement; (8) encouraging the City Council to invoke Section 908 of the Charter to empower Neighborhood Councils to hold hearings Citywide on important, key issues, then identify the facts and provide recommended solutions, all backed by proposed ordinances; (9) using the office to promote the passage of an effective 'whistle-blower protection law' modeled off of Federal law to reward and protect whistle-blowers whose efforts result in savings stemming from waste, fraud, and abuse; (10) establishing an 'inspector general' division of the office to ferret out waste, fraud, and abuse by City contractors and employees; (11) requiring anyone making a claim against the City to do so under penalty of perjury, and implementing a requirement for mandatory mediation and advisory arbitration of the claim, with a further proviso that reimbursement of the City's costs would be required if the claimant failed to better the arbitration award at trial; (12) insisting upon the City being repaid the sums owing on account of time spent by the City Attorney's office and City Planning in defense of land use entitlements obtained by speculators and developers when those land use entitlement grants are challenged in Court, as per the indemnity provisions which currently attach to the entitlement grants, but are not enforced; along with requiring the indemnity promise be secured with either cash or a cash bond as a condition for the grant of the land use entitlement.

Answer from Carmen "Nuch" Trutanich:

The City Attorney's office under my management is strongly committed to a proactive approach to legal problems.

I have proposed, for example, that the city adopt a system to require city agencies to pay a price if they are the target of successful lawsuits stemming from their mistakes. This plan - which met with considerable resistance at City Hall - would push City Hall to be more careful in managing its risks and avoiding lawsuits. Unfortunately, it has not been adopted.

My office is currently engaged in several projects aimed at preventing crime. The most notable one is our program of identifying persons who seek to illegally acquire firearms despite their ineligibility to possess such weapons. I have great hopes for this program and others like it aimed at curbing the tragedy of gun violence.

I can also proudly point to my office's partnership with various public and non-profit organizations to steer gang members (and those on the cusp of becoming gang members) and struggling military veterans of all ages into alternative sentencing programs that seek to counsel, train and rehabilitate non-violent offenders identified as ready to straighten out their lives.

Bottom-line: I do not believe we can simply punish and incarcerate our way out of all of our criminal justice problems.

Answer from Mike Feuer:

I will focus on enforcing all ordinances with an emphasis on public safety, reducing gun violence and keeping our neighborhoods safe. I will strive to make our streets safe, protect consumers and seniors, preserve our environment, improve our business climate, help create jobs, and stand up for working families.

Responses to questions asked of each candidate are reproduced as submitted to the League. 

The order of the candidates is random and changes daily. Candidates who did not respond are not listed on this page.

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Created: May 2, 2013 14:24 PDT
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