Thursday, July 21, 2011

Should the LA City Attorney be Elected or Appointed?

News from Barbara Broide:

Yesterday the LA City Council voted 13-0 to request a report from the CLA as to whether LA should no longer have an elected City Attorney, but should instead be served by a City Attorney appointed by the Mayor and City Council. 

Many of us have had concerns that the Mayor and Council have not wanted an independent City Attorney to hold office in Los Angeles.  We knew that Jack Weiss was the Mayor's choice for City Attorney in the last election and feared that there would be no checks and balances on the Mayor or City government had Weiss been elected.   Many of us worked to see that Trutanich was elected and we have seen his independence work to the benefit of all Angelenos.  I know that I need not remind all of you how the City Attorney's office has turned around the City's former dismal record on billboard and illegal sign enforcement.  (This issue has apparently served to inspire Jan Perry into spearheading the current effort.)  However, there are those, including Perry, who do not wish to have a strong City Attorney's office and they have been chipping away at the office since Trutanich was elected.

In the two years since that election, the Mayor and City Council have cut the City Attorney budget by 30% and negotiated a one-time retirement contract that encouraged more veteran City Attorneys to leave City service early than employees from any other department.  Not a single new City Attorney employee has been hired during this interval.

I am attaching the response to the Council request from the City Attorney's office and urge you to read it.  I suggest that our homeowners associations, neighborhood councils, chambers of commerce and other civic organizations pass resolutions endorsing the continued existence of an independently elected City Attorney for Los Angeles.  Individual emails sent to councilmembers and the Mayor ASAP to demonstrate our concern with such a notion would also be appropriate. 

Our swift response should clearly demonstrate to the electeds that we do not wish to see the post of City Attorney become another political appointment where the holder of the office must be beholden to the Council and Mayor for survival.  As we have already seen, the elected office of the City Attorney is already subject to more than enough influence by virtue of the funding process.   We must stand up for an independent City Attorney now before it is too late. 

Coverage from

L.A. Council explores legal options beyond city attorney

Council orders a report on the possibility of having a separate legal team to draft legislation and represent the city in lawsuits. The vote draws sharp criticism from the city attorney's office.

City Atty. Carmen Trutanich currently is responsible for misdemeanor prosecutions as well as drafting legislation and representing the city in lawsuits. (Lawrence K. Ho, Los Angeles Times / July 20, 2011)

By David Zahniser, Los Angeles Times

July 20, 2011

A Los Angeles councilwoman unhappy with City Atty. Carmen Trutanich's handling of billboard issues persuaded her colleagues Tuesday to seek a report on other ways of obtaining legal services at City Hall.

In a direct challenge to Trutanich, the council voted 13 to 0 to ask for a report on how cities across the nation put together their legal teams –- and on the possibility of separating the city attorney's misdemeanor criminal prosecutions from the work of crafting legislation and representing the city in lawsuits.

The push for a study was spearheaded by Councilwoman Jan Perry, who has repeatedly criticized Trutanich and his staffers over planning issues in and around her downtown district.

Perry accused his office of crossing a line from providing legal advice into engaging in political advocacy, by arguing against billboard districts and various forms of signage at the Wilshire Grand hotel, USC and L.A. Live, the entertainment complex owned by Anschutz Entertainment Group.

"At the end of the day, when we cast our vote one way or the other ... we are the ones who make policy," said Perry, who has announced plans to run for mayor in 2013.

The legal analysis will be prepared by Chief Legislative Analyst Gerry Miller, who is a council employee.

The move immediately drew a sharp response from Trutanich's chief deputy, William Carter, who called it an attempt to intimidate the office and prevent it from issuing independent legal opinions.

Carter said council members have been trying to remove the power granted by the City Charter to the city attorney's office since the 1920s. And he defended his office's handling of outdoor advertising laws.

Before Trutanich took office, "the federal courts had enjoined us from enforcing our own billboard laws," Carter said. "So the new city attorney proposed a new course that complied with the law. Some people perceive that as being a policy decision, when in fact it was merely a legal recommendation."

Perry has a history of criticizing the city's legal teams. She disagreed with Trutanich's predecessor, Rocky Delgadillo, on the city's legal disputes over homelessness, retaining her own lawyers to represent her position. She also expressed unhappiness with the city's handling of medical marijuana dispensaries.

Her proposal drew questions from Councilmen Jose Huizar and Richard Alarcon, who said they wanted to know what problem the council was trying to fix. "I would be more open to doing this if I had more clarification as to what exactly we're trying to do," Alarcon said.

Council President Eric Garcetti said he favored the study, describing Los Angeles County — which has a district attorney and a separate legal team to represent county government — as a model that works well. Garcetti complained that he had waited for two and a half years for an ordinance to be drafted that deals with valet parking.

Council members could not alter the city attorney's duties without crafting a ballot measure to amend the City Charter — and then persuading voters to approve it. Still, the decision to seek a study on other cities' legal teams showed the level of dissatisfaction with Trutanich from some on the council floor.

"I think we've got a city attorney who's a brilliant courtroom tactician," Garcetti said. "But we need to also make sure we are served well…. The function of city government has to be served in an expeditious manner."

Copyright © 2011, Los Angeles Times

Letter to City Council re Legal Services dated 7-19-11.pdf Download this file

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