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Cutbacks Will Erode Trust in Justice, Garcetti Says : Budget: Efforts to hire minority prosecutors will be stymied by lack of funds, D.A. warns. He says employing attorneys from diverse communities is essential.

August 19, 1993|ANDREA FORD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Recent budget cuts and a resulting inability to hire more prosecutors--particularly people of color--are undercutting efforts to restore public confidence in Los Angeles' criminal justice system, Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti said Wednesday.

The credibility of his office will be further weakened, he said, when he submits his plan later this month to accommodate a $16-million cut in his budget ordered by the County Board of Supervisors.

"It's not going to be a scenario anybody likes," Garcetti said in his monthly meeting with reporters, referring to the effect he believes the cutbacks will have on the office's effectiveness. "Frankly, its a very dangerous scenario."

During the discussion, he reiterated his contention that the $16-million cut from last year's spending level could force him to lay off up to 180 of his deputies and stop prosecuting misdemeanor cases.

Garcetti added, however, that he hopes to mitigate any layoffs, possibly by transferring prosecutors to special units financed through state and federal grants.

"We believe we might be able to increase some revenues . . . and consolidate some court services," he said. "But it all sacrifices justice to some extent."

Garcetti said he will oppose any attempts by the Board of Supervisors to cut his staff's pay by 8.4%.

Most of Garcetti's remarks, however, focused on what he portrayed as the criminal justice system's credibility problem.

"There's a feeling of concern in the community that questions the fairness of the (system)," Garcetti said. "It's a difficult challenge to restore credibility in the community in general, but certainly in some ethnic communities."

He cited the recent sentencing of two white Los Angeles police officers who were convicted of violating the civil rights of Rodney G. King as a case that eroded confidence in the system.

If federal prosecutors decide to appeal the 2 1/2-year sentences the officers received, he said, "I would not be critical of the U.S. attorney's office."

Garcetti said he could better restore confidence in his office in ethnic communities if he had more deputies from those communities.

For the first time in its history, the office does not have a majority of white males--they now account for 49.5% of his staff. But, Garcetti added, sufficient progress has not been made.

Deputies from minority, foreign-speaking and immigrant groups, he said, "are the ones who can especially sensitize us on why (witnesses) are not cooperating with us or why it is they are afraid of law enforcement."

Garcetti said his office of 854 criminal prosecutors is 60.5% male, 39.5% female, 8.9% Latino, 7.7% African-American, 5.6% Asian-American and Pacific Islander and 0.5% American Indian.

If layoffs become necessary under budget cuts, minorities may be the first to go because they were the last hired, he said.

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