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Amid Squabbles, D.A. Can Take Command

Garcetti should use grand jury power to collect evidence and prosecute, leaving Parks in his wake.

March 17, 2000|STEPHEN YAGMAN | Stephen Yagman is a Venice Beach civil rights lawyer who specializes in police brutality cases. He represents plaintiffs in numerous Rampart cases

Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, in a pique of bewilderment and frustration, called on his chief of police, Bernard C. Parks, and L.A. County Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti to be stop acting like children. Be adults, Riordan chided his law enforcement providers.

Riordan's chastisement came in the swelling wake of Parks' bold insistence that his department would henceforth provide information on the Rampart investigation to the U.S. attorney, not to Garcetti's office. That illegal skirting of the district attorney's authority to prosecute bad LAPD cops in the burgeoning Rampart scandal is illegal, as local and state officials have already ruled. Parks claimed that only the feds, whom he called in to investigate to give himself some cover, were capable of doing the job of prosecuting Parks' bad cops.

Parks was wrong on the facts and the law, as Garcetti's response quite properly pointed out. Garcetti--and the feds who, for many years, just like Garcetti and his predecessors, Ira Reiner, Robert Philibosian and John K. Van de Kamp, never made any serious effort to come after LAPD cops or sheriff's deputies--now has the opportunity of his lifetime and of his career.

Legally, there is concurrent state and federal criminal jurisdiction so that both Garcetti and U.S. Atty. Alejandro Mayorkas may prosecute cops. The only twist to this is that if the feds go first and lose, then Garcetti may not prosecute. On the other hand, if Garcetti goes first and loses, then Mayorkas can step in and patch things up--similar to the state-loss to federal-win in the Rodney King case.

Given the poor track record of Garcetti's prosecutions of high-profile cases, he now has a chance to redeem himself. If he messes up, then the feds can step in and clean up the mess.

On the other hand, if the slow-moving, hand-wringing, understaffed feds are the only ones who have an opportunity to handle the mess, statutes of limitations may run out on the state criminal prosecutions, and federal prosecutions may not materialize. That would be a worst-case scenario.

There is a rare opportunity here for everyone to shine, especially Garcetti.

Forget about Garcetti's bad track record. He's up for reelection. The public has a very short memory. He's got more than nine months to put his best people on this. He's got more than 1,000 lawyers in his office and scores of his own investigators. He's got access to a grand jury with subpoena power. What more could he ask for?

Garcetti already has assigned a tough deputy district attorney to run the Rampart investigation, which is exactly what is needed. Give him all the support he needs, and let him do his thing.

What crimes could be more important to investigate and to prosecute than public corruption cases, whose crimes have infected the entire justice system--cops, prosecutors and the judiciary?

This is Garcetti's time in the sun. He should ratchet up that grand jury, have it issue subpoenas and take Riordan's suggestion to be an adult and leave Parks in his sandbox. Parks will be history, and Garcetti will beat former LAPD cop Steve Cooley in the race to be district attorney. The job is Garcetti's to lose.

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