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After Trutanich: Who is city attorney

May 02, 2012|By Robert Greene
  • Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich must designate an acting incumbent to take his place if he is elected district attorney, or if he vacates his office early for any other reason.
Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich must designate an acting incumbent… (Los Angeles Times )

What if Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich wins the race for district attorney, either outright on June 5 or in a November runoff? If he takes office before his current term as city attorney has expired on June 30, 2013, who becomes L.A.’s city attorney?

Trutanich is required to designate someone in his office as the “acting incumbent” to serve as city attorney in case the office becomes vacant. Currently, his chief deputy is William Carter, and Carter said he would be the acting incumbent if there’s an immediate vacancy. Does that mean Carter is expecting to take over after the election, assuming his boss is victorious? No way.

“It isn’t going to be me,” Carter said. He made it clear that he doesn’t want the job. He took the top deputy position, he said, because he wanted to work for Trutanich.

If Trutanich is elected district attorney, presumably he will designate a new acting incumbent before leaving his current job.

That person will only have the job, however, until the City Council appoints a successor to continue serving through the end of Trutanich’s term. Two candidates have filed to succeed him in the 2013 city election: Assemblyman Mike Feuer and West Los Angeles Attorney Gregory Smith. If you were Feuer or Smith, would you seek that appointment so you could truly run as an incumbent? Or would you worry about being branded an insider and a deal-maker?

The council also has the power to set a special election to fill the post, but that’s not going to happen; the 2013 election is coming almost as soon as a special election would.

Of course, Trutanich could lose the district attorney’s race, and then he’d presumably want another term as city attorney.

It works differently for mayors; if there is a vacancy in that office, the City Council president becomes acting mayor until the council appoints, or the people elect, a new one.

But the city controller, too, must designate an acting incumbent. Deputy Controller Shannon Murphy said Wendy Greuel has selected her chief deputy, Claire Bartels. The designation of Bartels and Carter is not automatic, just because they are chief deputies; the city controller and city attorney are required under city charter section 210 to make the designation in writing and file it with the city clerk well before they plan to leave office.

Greuel is running for mayor, but if she’s elected she wouldn’t take office until her term as controller has expired, so barring some unforeseen event,  there won’t be an acting incumbent controller any time soon.

We had one, though, and recently. Greuel had already been elected, but hadn’t yet taken office, in April 2009 when then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed outgoing controller Laura Chick to the new (and short-lived) post of inspector general for federal stimulus money within California.

Chick appointed her chief deputy, Rushmore Cervantes, to serve as acting incumbent for the final two months of her term. The City Council could have, but did not, appoint someone to replace Cervantes.

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