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Lockyer Prepares to Move Into Leading Role

Issues: New attorney general is all but certain to become one of the most visible state officials as many topics that dominated election move into the courts.


The instant he's sworn in as California attorney general, Bill Lockyer will take a leading role on the issues that dominated Tuesday's election, from renewed efforts to ban assault weapons to expanded casino operations on Indian reservations.

Throw in the prospect that California's lawsuit against the tobacco industry will go to trial early next year, and Lockyer, who trounced Republican Dave Stirling in Tuesday's balloting, is all but certain to emerge as one of the most visible officials in California--second perhaps only to the new governor, Gray Davis.

"I got a big notebook, and it is filling up fast with thoughts and recommendations," Lockyer said.

Lockyer, 57, wasted no time immersing himself in the post he will take over Jan. 4. On Wednesday afternoon, Lockyer met with state budget experts to go over the Department of Justice's $500-million annual allocation.

Earlier in the day, Lockyer sent a letter to outgoing Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren--Davis' vanquished opponent--urging that details of a proposed settlement of the state's lawsuit against the tobacco industry be publicly released before any deal is sealed. Lungren's office was cool to the idea.

But in an interview, Lockyer suggested that if Lungren settles the tobacco suit in the next two months and the terms don't meet Lockyer's expectations that the industry will pay the state up to $23 billion, he might attempt to block the deal.

"Some of the [tobacco plaintiffs'] lawyers believe the incoming attorney general can cause any hasty settlement to unravel," said Lockyer, who was heavily backed in the campaign by trial lawyers who represent plaintiffs in civil suits, including the tobacco case. Lungren brought the suit last year to recoup state costs of caring for indigents with tobacco-related illness.

Upon entering office, Lockyer also will confront the task of defending Proposition 5, to let Indians run casinos as they see fit. Nevada gambling interests, which oppose expanded gambling in California, are all but sure to sue to have the initiative overturned. Lockyer promised to defend the initiative.

"The era of being adversarial with California tribes has ended," Lockyer said.

Lockyer, a member of the Legislature since 1973, long has been one of Sacramento's big players. As Senate president pro tem for four years ending earlier this year, he had a hand in virtually every major piece of legislation. Lockyer was planning to meet with local law enforcement officials to develop a package of bills for next year.

Lockyer will be California's first Democratic attorney general in eight years, and the first Democrat to hold the post at the same time as a Democratic governor since the 1960s, when Supreme Court Justice Stanley Mosk was attorney general and Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Sr. was governor. Lockyer vows to work closely with Davis, and says the new governor has been a friend since 1973.

"There will be collaborative work in every area--consumer issues, the environment, health issues," Lockyer said. That said, Lockyer is more of an ideologue than Davis. And in the past, say some politicos who know them, Davis and Lockyer, both of whom are strong-willed and highly ambitious, appeared to be rivals.

Lockyer will arrive at a job whose power is second only to the governor's.

Deputy attorneys general represent the state in death penalty appeals. Lockyer said he plans to work with Davis to speed the death penalty appeals process.

The attorney general has the authority to assign the Department of Justice's more than 300 agents to investigate major crimes, and can detail some of the 1,000 state attorneys to file lawsuits in areas ranging from civil rights violations to antitrust.

"You will have a very powerful office in the hands of a master mechanic," said Assemblyman Don Perata (D-Alameda), who has known Lockyer since the mid-1960s when they were legislative aides in Oakland.

In key areas, however, Lockyer and Davis will need to be partners. One is a new assault weapons ban, something around which Davis and Lockyer built their campaigns.

Lockyer promised to defend California's existing assault weapons prohibition against legal attack, and said he would work with Davis to help fashion legislation to broaden the ban on high-capacity, military-style weapons.

"It has to be high on the list," Lockyer said.

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