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Ex-Lawmaker Robbins Fights to Save Legacy

Capitol: A bill would strip his name from laws he authored before his imprisonment in 'Shrimpscam' scandal. He lobbies several legislators.

June 26, 2000|CARL INGRAM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — High-flying ex-state Sen. Alan Robbins, driven from the Legislature in 1991 as an admitted felon, has quietly resurfaced here in a fight to save his legacy.

Robbins is waging a low-profile campaign to kill an extraordinary bill that would remove his name from the official title of every state law memorializing him as its author.

His name would be banished, for example, from the landmark "Robbins Rape Evidence Law" of 1974, and from the obscure "Robbins Courthouse Construction Fund" act of 1984.

Assemblyman Lou Papan (D-Millbrae), the bill's author, wants to purge the statute titles of any mention of Robbins' 1973-91 history in Sacramento. Papan has found at least nine other laws that bear a Robbins "tombstone."

"He brought discredit to himself, to the Legislature and the people of California. We don't want to be reminded that he even came through here," Papan said of Robbins, a Democrat who represented the San Fernando Valley.

A former FBI agent, Papan argues that for Robbins' "tombstones" to endure any longer would be akin to "paying a tribute to Benedict Arnold." Some of the laws are almost 30 years old.

Robbins, 57, who served a 20-month prison sentence and now sells real estate, has suddenly reemerged in the legislative arena and is lobbying against the bill in telephone calls to former colleagues.

"I can't understand why Lou picked my bills and only my bills. I would hate to think I was the only person to bring discredit on the California Legislature in 150 years," Robbins said in a phone interview last week.

Tombstoning is the practice of naming historic enactments in honor of their authors and coauthors, although the threshold has dropped over the years. Outside the Legislature, few Californians typically identify laws by their authors.

The Papan plan, believed by veteran bill drafters to be the first of its kind, would chisel Robbins' name from the tombstones, but would have no effect on the substance of the laws.

The bill, AB 1331, is scheduled to be heard today by the Senate Rules Committee, four of whose five members served with Robbins in the Legislature.

Robbins and at least five other legislators and officials went to prison for crimes committed in the wide-ranging "Shrimpscam" scandals of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Others included former Sens. Joseph Montoya (D-Whittier), Paul Carpenter (D-Cypress), Frank Hill (R-Whittier) and former Assembly Republican leader Pat Nolan of Glendale.

Asked if he intended to include any tombstones of those ex-felons in his bill, Papan first said, "I can go that far with it."

A short while later, he rejected the idea and said he wanted only Robbins in the bill. In his view, Papan said, Robbins is in a category of his own: "infamously notorious."

Robbins said he has "put in some calls" to lawmakers, but only to ask when the committee planned to vote on the bill. He said he will not return to the Capitol to testify against it.

"I try to live my life in peace and quiet," Robbins said.

One committee member, Sen. Jack O'Connell (D-San Luis Obispo), described a surprise Robbins call to him as subtle and "very low-key" lobbying. He said Robbins urged him to "read the bill carefully," sometimes a Sacramento code phrase for "vote no."

Another member, Sen. Teresa Hughes (D-Inglewood), said her office received a call from Robbins, but she did not return it. "I was busy doing other things," she said.

Robbins, once a turbocharged wheeler and dealer, attorney and developer who was a self-made millionaire by age 30, resigned under pressure from the Senate on Nov. 19, 1991, the same day he was indicted on felony racketeering and tax evasion charges.

In a plea bargain, the bright, brassy--even obnoxious--former legislator with a penchant for breath sprays pleaded guilty. He was released from prison in 1994 and got his real estate license back on the second try in 1998.

The corruption scandal was Robbins' second encounter with criminal law. In 1981, he was tried on charges of having sex with two 16-year-old high school girls he had befriended at the Capitol. He was acquitted and won reelection the next year.

Robbins said he was alerted about a month ago to the Papan bill by unnamed supporters of the Robbins Rape Evidence Law. In the mid-1970s, its passage was praised by activists in the women's movement as a huge breakthrough for rape victims.

It generally prohibits rape defendants from introducing as evidence at trial the sexual histories of their victims. The statute became a national model.

A former longtime aide to Robbins, Teri Burns, said she too urged lawmakers to leave the Robbins' tombstones alone.

"Those bills are my legacy too," Burns said. "We did a lot of good work back in those days. Some of those bills reflect that work."

In the interview, Robbins refused to publicly state his opinion of the bill but said, "I do care that Lou is saying what he is saying and stirring up things 9 1/2 years after I left the Legislature.

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