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Trutanich campaign knew personnel file was missing 3 years ago

L.A. city attorney, a candidate for D.A., had sought a probe into 'suspicious political activity' after saying the file from the D.A.'s office was missing.

May 16, 2012|By Jack Leonard, Los Angeles Times
  • L.A. City Atty. Carmen Trutanich worked in the district attorney's office in the 1980s.
L.A. City Atty. Carmen Trutanich worked in the district attorney's… (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles…)

The allegation was serious: Someone might be playing politics with Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich's personnel file from his days as a county prosecutor.

Trutanich, who is campaigning to become the next district attorney, complained to state authorities last week that his file was missing and asked for an investigation into "suspicious political activity" in the district attorney's office. In his letter to the attorney general's office, Trutanich noted that Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley had endorsed another candidate to succeed him, and Trutanich raised the "possibility that records have been removed, tampered with or stolen in the course of a political campaign."

But Trutanich's letter never mentioned that his campaign was told more than three years earlier that the district attorney's office did not have his file — at a time when Cooley was supporting his successful bid for city attorney.

The notification that Trutanich's personnel file was "no longer maintained" by the district attorney's office was included in a Nov. 26, 2008, report by VR Research, which Trutanich's 2009 campaign for city attorney commissioned to dig into public records about the candidate. The existence of VR Research and its request for the file was first reported by LA Weekly. The Times has also obtained a copy of the report.

Following the disclosure of the VR Research report, Trutanich's campaign said it had notified the state attorney's general office Tuesday about the prior request for the personnel file. In a statement to The Times, Trutanich's political strategists focused on a new complaint: That the report was stolen and later "widely shopped by the campaign of one of Carmen Trutanich's opponents — a sitting Deputy District Attorney."

The statement did not identify the candidate. Trutanich is running against five prosecutors who work for the district attorney's office.

Trutanich's campaign said it would file a police report as well as a complaint with the state's Fair Political Practices Commission. "The irony is that this person is running to be the County's top law enforcement prosecutor," the statement said.

The campaign also blasted the media for reporting about the document: "It is both unethical and disturbing that any member of the media would knowingly use stolen documents — which may have been altered, embellished or edited — in order to write misleading negative stories about Carmen Trutanich," the statement said.

The controversy over Trutanich's missing file began last week after a Times story detailed varying accounts Trutanich has given about an incident in a South L.A. park in the mid-1980s while he was a young county prosecutor working on a murder case. His campaign says Trutanich was shot at by gang members who surrounded him in Green Meadows Park, but Trutanich did not mention coming under gunfire or being surrounded during a 2008 deposition in which he was asked what had happened.

In responding to records requests from The Times, the district attorney's office said it had no documents about a shooting involving Trutanich but said some records from the 1980s had been destroyed and that Trutanich's personnel file, like others from the era, was missing.

In Trutanich's letter last week to Atty. Gen.Kamala D. Harris, he said he had "never requested production or review of my personnel file, nor have I received notice that anyone else had — as required by law."

Cooley said late Tuesday that the Trutanich campaign's prior request for the file showed that his strategists had either "incredibly poor memory" or were trying to manipulate the public into believing that records about the park incident had been deliberately lost or destroyed.

"They hid behind the missing file — missing for years, if not decades — and they blamed the D.A.'s office, including me," Cooley said. "They had to know that was false and slanderous, but they were desperate for cover."

jack.leonard@latimes.com

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