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Cooley for D.A.

ELECTION 2000 / Local Elections

October 22, 2000

The Times endorsed Steve Cooley in last March's primary in his bid to unseat two-term incumbent Gil Garcetti as Los Angeles County district attorney. We reiterate our support for Cooley in the runoff election on Nov. 7.

A 26-year prosecutor, Steve Cooley brings wide courtroom and management experience to the post. He offers strong and coolheaded leadership to the 1,000-lawyer district attorney's office.

Garcetti has accomplishments--he moved to curb domestic violence and elder abuse, brought a welcome focus on crime prevention to the prosecutor's office and made diversity a priority in his hiring and promotions. We expect Cooley to continue these initiatives if he's elected. But Garcetti's lax record on pursuing the sort of police abuses revealed in the Rampart Division scandal should give voters pause. His weak performance over the past four years, including in the Rampart scandal, is underscored by his first term's high-profile losses--among them the O.J. Simpson case and the first Menendez brothers prosecution--and growing morale problems within the district attorney's office. All this suggests that Garcetti is not an effective leader.

The most troubling example is the unfolding Rampart scandal. Garcetti faces tough questions about whether his office helped create a climate that allowed the police misconduct by disbanding the so-called roll-out unit, which investigated officer-involved shootings at the scene. When disgraced ex-cop Rafael Perez squealed last fall about the widespread lying, shootings and beatings by Rampart officers, Garcetti should have known he had a very big problem on his hands, one arguably beyond the capability of his office to handle. Garcetti's record of prosecuting bad cops had been a weak point before Rampart; the informal and formal connections between police officers and prosecutors--and often local judges--make police misconduct cases hard to prosecute for any district attorney. All the more reason, then, that Garcetti should have turned these cases over to federal officials once it became clear that the misconduct went well beyond one corrupt cop. Instead, Garcetti has, in the view of many, dragged his feet in moving against officers linked to Perez.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday October 25, 2000 Home Edition Metro Part B Page 8 Editorial Writers Desk 2 inches; 50 words Type of Material: Editorial; Correction
District attorney--An editorial last Sunday incorrectly said a domestic abuse hotline and a book on the district attorney's office were funded with settlements paid by environmental pollution defendants to a foundation created by Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti. Though these were foundation projects, the funds came from other sources.

Garcetti has repeatedly castigated Cooley for soliciting campaign funds from among local judges and his fellow prosecutors. Certainly there is a danger that these donors could gain preferences in a Cooley administration. But how is that different from fears that the many blue-chip law firms that have generously contributed to Garcetti's reelection bid could be buying access for their well-heeled clients? Or the risk that corporations that have backed Garcetti in this and previous campaigns will get kid-glove treatment? The only complete solution is campaign finance reform that makes it unnecessary for candidates to go hat in hand to interested parties.

It's deeply disturbing that from 1994 to 1998 deputy district attorneys, as a condition of settling the prosecutions, squeezed several dozen pollution case defendants into donating to a foundation that Garcetti created. The money was used to produce an anti-pollution video featuring Garcetti, a domestic violence hotline and a coffee-table book on the history of the district attorney's office, among other projects.

Put it all together and it points to a need for a new district attorney. The power of the office to bring down the weight of the criminal justice system upon individuals should make voters wary of any district attorney who seeks to perpetuate that power for many years. Garcetti's record recommends change. The Times endorses Steve Cooley for district attorney.

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