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Decision '93 / A Look at the Elections in Los Angeles County : Los Angeles City Offices : Deputy Wages Low-Budget Campaign Against Hahn : City attorney: Michael Guarino says his boss was too soft on political scandals. The incumbent calls the charges irresponsible and says he has a solid record.

April 11, 1993|PENELOPE McMILLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In his race for Los Angeles city attorney, Michael Guarino has few endorsements, almost no contributions and friends who call his candidacy quixotic.

His opponent, James Kenneth Hahn, bears one of the most famous last names in Los Angeles politics, has $192,000 in contributions and has been city attorney since 1985.

Hahn is seeking his third term in the $108,816-a-year job. Guarino has been a deputy city attorney for 15 years, specializing in obscenity and wage violation cases.

Hahn, 43, believes he deserves reelection because of his record and his experience as an administrator. "I'm someone you've watched and you know," he said.

Guarino, 44, said that it is time for a change, that "we know too much" about Hahn to reelect him.

The campaign took an unexpected turn recently when the city's Ethics Commission accused some Hahn aides of doing political work on city time and said Hahn must have been aware of it. Hahn denied it, noting that a prior investigation found no illegal activity.

Hahn then produced audits showing that Guarino had billed the city for about $2,000 worth of phone calls to a former staff attorney, now his wife, who lived in the Bay Area. Guarino said he charged only professional calls seeking legal advice, not personal calls.

The city attorney is the city's lawyer, advising department heads, writing ordinances and defending lawsuits. His office's 358 lawyers also prosecute 200,000 misdemeanor cases a year.

The hard-charging Guarino says that his boss was too soft on politicians and their contributors during recent scandals. Civil lawsuits filed by Hahn against Councilman Richard Alatorre, some corporations and Mayor Tom Bradley for campaign violations were settled with fines. Bradley avoided another suit by giving the city $55,000 resulting from anonymous donations collected at inner-city carnivals.

Guarino says criminal charges were not pursued because Hahn is part of the Establishment.

Hahn said that Guarino's charges are irresponsible and that he made the legally correct decision each time.

After the case involving Alatorre, who said he was unaware of his campaign staff's wrongful use of certain funds, Hahn instigated changes in city law, he said, "so that no candidate can say: 'I didn't know.' "

Hahn was raised in South Los Angeles. The son of former Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, who was unbeatable in election after election, he graduated from Pepperdine Law School and was a deputy city attorney from 1975 to 1979. He first ran for office in 1981, becoming city controller.

As city attorney, Hahn said, he is proud of forming a gang unit, reviving a domestic-violence unit and using public nuisance laws against drug trafficking and gangs.

"I've been working on community-based law enforcement before it was a catchword," he said.

Los Angeles-born, Guarino graduated from Southwestern University College of Law. He is a past president of the City Attorneys Assn., an organization of deputy city attorneys.

Some of his high-profile cases were unsuccessful, including a trial of Olympic hurdler Edwin Moses for soliciting prostitution and a pornography charge against punk group leader Jello Biafra.

Guarino counts among his successes the drafting of a state law against possession of child pornography and prosecution of two dozen wage violation cases.

Guarino calls himself the candidate of "everybody except the downtown insiders who support Jim Hahn."

The Candidates Michael Guarino, lawyer

James Kenneth Hahn, incumbent

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