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Shift in Election Law Enforcement Urged by Jury

March 29, 1985|DANIEL M. WEINTRAUB | Times Staff Writer

The district attorney and not the city attorney should enforce city election laws, the county grand jury said in a report Thursday.

The city attorney now serves as legal adviser to the City Council and investigator of campaign violations that could drive those council members from office.

The grand jury's recommendation came one day after the city convened a task force to review the campaign ordinances and their enforcement, and a month after Common Cause, a government watchdog group, proposed that an independent city elections officer be appointed to do the same job.

"This dual responsibility places the city attorney in a difficult position when he must advise the mayor and/or members of the council, and also possibly bring charges against them for campaign violations," the report said.

The two-page report also recommended that the city reimburse the district attorney's office for its services.

In an interview, Witt downplayed the significance of the issue, but said he would freely return the election law enforcement to the district attorney's office, which had the responsibility until Proposition 13 forced the county to reevaluate its provision of services to cities.

"I agree with the grand jury that it's an uncomfortable position to be in," Witt said. "I don't think it's fatal by any stretch of the imagination, because of the independence of this office, because it's elected."

Witt said he did not know how much money the city attorney's office spends enforcing the election laws.

"It goes in flurries," Witt said. "Obviously, during elections the flurries are the greatest because of the finger-pointing that goes on between the candidates. Between elections there's a long period when nothing is going on."

Steve Casey, a spokesman for Dist. Atty. Edwin L. Miller, said Miller would be willing to reassume the enforcement duties--under certain conditions.

"The big problem is twofold," Casey said. "One is the money to pay the staff to do the work. The other is the space to put them in. If those two issues are addressed, Ed is willing to talk seriously about taking over the responsibility."

Casey said the office could not perform the job with its current staff and then ask for reimbursement.

"The staff we've got now is fully occupied, so we're talking about a reasonable supplement," Casey said.

Common Cause called for an independent elections officer last month, an idea that was discussed at Wednesday's opening session of the city's Campaign Review Task Force. One member of the task force said the enforcement provisions of the current ordinance are "wholly inadequate."

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