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California and the West

Lockyer Apologizes to Lawmaker for Misattributed Quote

July 22, 1999|MARK ARAX | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer apologized Wednesday to a state assemblyman for a quote that appeared in the Los Angeles Times on Monday about the defeat of a bill to change the way prison guards are investigated and prosecuted.

The bill, which would have taken prison brutality cases out of the purview of local prosecutors and placed them in the hands of the attorney general, was defeated after intense lobbying by the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn. (CCPOA).

In The Times' story, Lockyer repeated a private conversation he said he had with Assemblyman Jim Battin (R-La Quinta) just before Battin and other legislators voted to kill the proposal.

Lockyer quoted Battin, who has received $105,000 in campaign contributions from the prison guards' union since 1994, as telling him: "Bill, sorry but I'm whoring for the CCPOA.' "

Lockyer now says that Battin made the comment to a third party. Because he did not want to identify the third party to The Times, Lockyer said he mistakenly "personalized the quote."

"Someone told me they had a conversation with Battin in which he made that quote," Lockyer said Wednesday. "Instead of involving this third party, I made it more personal. I should have corrected it immediately.

"I have apologized to Assemblyman Battin for any grief this error may have caused him."

Battin, who had not returned numerous phone calls from The Times before the story appeared Monday, said Wednesday that the quote was fabricated. "I did not say that to the attorney general, I did not say that to anyone. That's not the kind of language I would ever use," he said. "The whole thing is unfortunate, but I do appreciate the attorney general's willingness to set the record straight."

The bill, SB 451, was sponsored by Sen. Adam Schiff (D-Pasadena) and grew out of legislative hearings last summer on brutality and a cover-up at Corcoran State Prison. Testimony during the six-day hearings showed that the system to root out brutality by guards had broken down. The Kings County district attorney watching over Corcoran said he lacked the manpower to probe and prosecute guards and the temerity to take on their powerful union.

The bill, which would have set up a separate unit inside the attorney general's office to crack down on rogue guards throughout the state's 33 prisons, sailed smoothly through the Senate. But before it was heard in the Assembly last week, the measure came under intense lobbying from a single foe: the guards' union.

Last week, much to the chagrin of Schiff and Lockyer and to the delight of union chief Don Novey, the bill was soundly defeated. As testimony to the union's clout, it never made it out of the Assembly's Public Safety Committee.

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