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Trutanich enters term with changes in mind for city attorney's office

During his inaugural speech, L.A.'s head prosecutor vows to crack down on government misconduct and to cut back on costs for outside counsel. He also touted his new bureau of investigation.

July 02, 2009|Maeve Reston

Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich touched off his first term with a note of defiance Wednesday, promising to vigorously pursue misconduct by public officials, restructure the office to spend less money on outside counsel and possibly even keep an eye on the L.A. Police Department.

The San Pedro lawyer, who campaigned as a City Hall outsider who would act as the city's watchdog, warned in his inaugural speech that he would "hold accountable anyone in city government who violates the public trust or our ethics laws, and I will do so with the fullest extent of the law."

"I am not here to win a popularity contest; I am here to do the people's work," said Trutanich, who touted his working-class roots as the son of a cannery worker.

In a news conference after his speech, Trutanich said he planned to travel to Sacramento seeking authority to impanel grand juries for ethics investigations under his watch, but did not specify his targets.

The new city attorney avoided criticizing his predecessor, Rocky Delgadillo, by name. But he took issue with the office's reliance on outside counsel, which he said cost more than $100 million for matters involving the harbor, airport and the Department of Water and Power, among other issues. "We employ over 600 lawyers, and when you have to spend that kind of money on outside counsel, we need to be restructured," he said, noting that he had promoted two deputy city attorneys from within the office to lead the criminal and civil divisions.

Trutanich and his chief deputy, William W. Carter, also said the office was considering changing "the game plan" on policies as disparate as illegal billboards, medical marijuana dispensaries, land use, development and gang injunctions.

Trutanich said he directed Carter to send a memo to the department's attorneys Wednesday, telling them to "put the brakes on."

"We're changing direction. The deals that we've made are not the deals that we're going to make," Trutanich said.

Trutanich outlined ambitious goals for his office Wednesday afternoon. Though the city is in the midst of a hiring freeze, Trutanich said he hoped to hire 200 investigators for his new bureau of investigation. Currently, Trutanich said, about 85 Los Angeles police officers fill that role, but he believed that independent investigators could take on matters the LAPD lacks time for, such as cracking down on illegal billboards. He said he would ask the City Council to pay for investigator positions with savings he hopes to gain by reducing outside counsel costs.

"We're going to build this unit, we're going to fund it, we're going to get them automobiles, we're going to have a regular police force," the city attorney said. That force -- which consists of three Trutanich appointees -- might even be responsible for keeping an eye on the LAPD, he said.

"I don't want to see a need for another consent decree," Trutanich said, referring to the federal restraints imposed on the LAPD after the Rampart Division corruption scandal. "If there's something that we need to do to supervise LAPD to make sure that they comply, let the independent police department -- the bureau of investigation -- do that supervision. Why do we have to make millionaires out of private lawyers?"

Trutanich, who grew up in San Pedro and spent nearly a decade as a deputy district attorney in the 1980s, was elected with a comfortable margin in May after a bruising runoff campaign with two-term Councilman Jack Weiss, who had the support of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Police Chief William J. Bratton.

Weiss accused Trutanich of having a "moral sinkhole" of clients at his boutique law firm, where he had represented a number of environmental polluters and several clients who ran afoul of gun laws. Trutanich said Wednesday that he'd severed ties with the former firm, now Michel & Associates.

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maeve.reston@latimes.com

Times staff writer David Zahniser contributed to this report.

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