Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley called Saturday for changing the way crimes are prosecuted in central Los Angeles by creating teams of deputy district attorneys to handle cases from areas south, east and west of downtown.
Cooley backed his office's long-discussed proposal to reconfigure its Central Operations Bureau. Based at the 19-story Foltz Criminal Justice Center downtown, the 122 prosecutors of Central Operations handle 10,000 cases annually that originate from nine Los Angeles police divisions, East Los Angeles and Montebello.
The district attorney proposed dedicating existing courtrooms and prosecutors instead to handling cases from three distinct regions -- South Los Angeles, the Eastside and the areas west of downtown. Currently, each courtroom downtown handles cases from all of those areas, plus some spillover from suburban courthouses.
The downtown courthouse's case volume "has caused it to be called the Wal-Marts of the justice system," Cooley said in a speech at a victims' rights vigil in Boyle Heights Saturday. "This has to change."
But a spokesman for the courts, which would have to approve such a change, say they have long had concerns about revamping the court system the way Cooley proposes.
"We have some real questions about whether it's workable," the spokesman, Allan Parachini, said Saturday. He added that court administrators would be happy to discuss the issue with the district attorney.
The proposed reconfiguration would make the downtown court more akin to regional courts, such as those in Pasadena or Van Nuys, where judges see the same offenders and police officers day in and day out. That way, said Jacqueline Lacey, the director of Central Operations, the judges can see patterns in crimes -- or even in police testimony that could expose deceitful officers.
The difference between the regional courts and the downtown courthouse, Lacey said, is "the difference between flying out of LAX and Burbank." Downtown, she added, has "no personalized services that are tailored to the community."
Lacey said the change is not expected to cost the court administration more, but said that judges have cautioned that the state budget crunch may make it difficult to make such reforms.
Lacey argued that the change is "long overdue."