A confrontation over a campaign radio commercial spiced up a debate Thursday among the five lawyers vying to become Los Angeles' next city attorney.
City Controller James Hahn, considered the front-runner in the city attorney's race, demanded that opponent Murray Kane drop a new radio spot about Hahn's prosecutorial record as a deputy city attorney. Hahn called the commercial "deceptive" and said it contains "false and erroneous charges." However, Kane retorted he would "be proud for the record to speak for itself."
The confrontation came during a city attorney candidate forum sponsored by the Los Angeles County Bar Assn. The forum--the first of three held by lawyer groups Thursday--produced little new information and no surprises. With a few exceptions, the candidates generally agreed on issues confronting the city attorney's office, although they did not always agree on priorities.
The County Bar Assn. debate was the first major joint appearance of all the candidates for the office and was thus heavily covered by the news media. With less than three weeks before the April 9 primary, it afforded some valuable exposure to at least two under-financed candidates, Betsy Mogul and Charles Zinger.
While none of the candidates was able to dominate the 50-minute debate, Zinger and Mogul got the most applause from the audience of their peers in their uphill bids for the office. The two, both deputy city attorneys, took turns explaining their perspective of the office while trying to portray their better-known opponents as lacking the necessary qualifications.
Under a tightly controlled format limiting answers to 60- or 30-second snippets, the candidates did not have time to showcase their views and credentials. Nor was there much time to engage in attacks against each other. The Hahn-Kane confrontation was one of the few exceptions.
Hahn avoided any direct attacks on his opponents until his closing statement. Then he focused on Kane, who two days ago had called Hahn a "fraud" who had an "appalling prosecution record."
Kane accused Hahn in a news conference and in a radio commercial of plea-bargaining serious crimes that could have been won if the cases had gone to trial. Hahn has said Kane's charges amount to "distortions" of the record and included felonies as examples, although the city attorney's office prosecutes only misdemeanors.
Hahn told the 170 lawyers attending the debate: "When someone doesn't know the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor, then it's sad. But when someone does know the difference and deliberately makes a misleading radio commercial, to me that's criminal.
"I think that we as a Bar ought to stand up and say we will not stand for deceptive advertising . . . and I would like to see Mr. Kane pull those commercials now, because he knows that they're deceptive," Hahn said, turning to his opponent.
In response, Kane said: "I'm sure that Jimmy would love to see those radio commercials pulled, but I'll be proud for the record to speak for itself."
Kane, the most visible candidate so far, has been attacking Hahn and Westside attorney Lisa Specht--whom he considers his principal opponents--for more than two months. Thursday, however, Kane became the target not only of Hahn, but also of Zinger and Mogul.
Mogul accused Kane of ignoring the fact that she has the most prosecution experience of the five candidates, while Zinger said Kane has not prosecuted a case in 13 years and, as a lawyer for the city's Community Redevelopment Agency, is really a real estate lawyer.
Thursday night, at a forum at the downtown Sheraton Grande sponsored by the Black Women Lawyers, Kane was repeatedly hissed when he attacked Hahn. At the same session, both Mogul and Zinger were applauded when they called Kane unethical for claiming to be a prosecutor.
Kane, his voice rising, told the audience of about 80 that they could "go ahead and laugh," but it did not change the fact that Hahn had a "shameful prosecution record."
Specht was the only candidate who did not criticize her opponents at any of the forums. Instead, she stressed her endorsements from Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner and Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp. However, she did not escape attack.
Law Firm Connection
Zinger attacked Specht for her affiliation with the politically connected law firm of Manatt, Phelps, Rothenberg & Tunney, which lobbies at City Hall. He said her election "would be like putting the fox in the hen house." And Kane, referring to Reiner's endorsement of Specht, said: "When Ira Reiner said four years ago (when running for city attorney) that endorsements don't make up for lack of prosecutorial experience, he was right."
The other forum was sponsored by the Los Angeles Trial Lawyers Assn.