The only thing missing in tonight’s City Attorney debate in Valley Village was one of the candidates shouting, “You can’t handle the truth!”
The heat did match the final courtroom scene between Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise on two of the subjects.
The first was Feuer’s controversial contract with his campaign manager John Shallman.
Feuer claims the Ethics Commission told him his contract passed muster. Trutanich flashed a document purporting that the Commission has no record of Feuer’s inquiry. Feuer countered that the Commission was not allowed to comment on his inquiry. Trutanich fired back saying if the discussion was confidential, it violated the Brown Act, which requires public transparency. He went on to chide Feuer about relying on an oral statement to support such a critical matter, implying it was sloppy practice.
I spoke briefly with Trutanich after the debate concerning the related court case filed against Feuer by an activist. He said the worst that could happen to Feuer would be the removal of his name from the ballot.
AB109, the bill that provided for the transfer of certain state prison inmates to local jails, produced almost as many sparks. Trutanich criticized Feuer for supporting the bill, even implying that some recent violent crimes could be traced to the law. He said the county jails are filled with AB109 prisoners as a result. For the legislature to characterize it as a budget balancing measure was misleading; it merely transferred the cost of incarceration from the state to local governments. Feuer pointed out that Trutanich supported the bill when it was first introduced and changed his position after it became law.
Both candidates agreed that marijuana should not be made legal across the board, but it should still be reserved for compassionate use. According to Feuer, Trutanich was too slow in dealing with the proliferation of the medical marijuana outlets while the city attorney jumped on Feuer about his lack of action when compassionate use was passed back in 1996.
Aside from these issues, the gist of the debate centered around the role the city attorney should play – one who develops policy for enforcement versus enforcement itself.
Feuer favors the former – use of risk management to prioritize litigation strategy and a focus on quality of life issues within neighborhoods. Feuer cited examples of his legislative work to combat urban blight caused by abandoned properties and reducing ammunition clip capacity. He is also in favor of beefing up the neighborhood prosecutor program, which he claims was neglected by Trutanich.
Trunanich proclaimed success in aggressively enforcing the laws as a deterrent to suits against the city. He personally “tries” the cases his attorneys bring before they go to court, claiming his court room experience in prior positions enable him to effectively prepare his staff for actual trials. On a few occasions, Trutanich emphasized Feuer’s lack of court room experience.
Trutanich was adamant that the city attorney should not set policy, but focus on enforcing existing laws. He reminded the audience that the LAPD is very capable of identifying situations requiring legal intervention and are in a better position to make those calls than neighborhood prosecutors.
One interesting point of agreement between the two: as a practical matter, the city should not relinquish its immunity on personal injury cases related to broken sidewalks.
Trutanich came across as the stronger of the two and offered more data, but confirming the accuracy of data is always tough in these debates unless one has time to sift through reports. However, he did seem to have command of the numbers. His court room experience no doubt gave him an edge.
Feuer made a curious remark in his closing statement. He told moderator Dave Bryan (KCAL) he remembered the days when Bryan accompanied him on his canvassing walks years ago, as if to imply there was a political connection between the two. There was a short pause after which Bryan reminded him that he was simply serving as a reporter. It was an awkward moment for Feuer.
Dave Bryan did an excellent job of keeping the candidates on subject. I would like to see more of him in other debates.