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Editorial

Testing a candidate for L.A. district attorney

Jackie Lacey's behavior in a 2009 hearing seems out of character. She's still the best choice for D.A.

May 29, 2012
(Los Angeles Times )

Voters have a right to know whether a candidate for Los Angeles County district attorney changed her testimony under oath to protect her boss. The question concerns Jackie Lacey, the top deputy to incumbent Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley and the person whom The Times has endorsed in the June 5 election to replace him. It is the weak link in Lacey's otherwise stellar record as a prosecutor and administrator, and it tempers our enthusiasm for Lacey, not because we believe she lied under oath — we don't — but because it hints at a certain sloppiness that seems out of character for her.

At issue is Lacey's testimony before an employee relations commission arising out of a bitter feud between Cooley and the Assn. of Deputy District Attorneys, the union that represents most of the prosecutors in the office. At a 2009 hearing, she said she had warned a prosecutor not to get involved in the union because it would be bad for his career. At a later hearing, she said she had misunderstood the question and that she never told the deputy that his career would be affected.

Our concern is not with the fight between management and labor over the union, but with whether it is credible that Lacey, a seasoned prosecutor who formerly questioned witnesses as a central part of her job and later supervised lawyers who did so, wasn't paying close attention when being questioned on the stand.

"That afternoon I was really tired and I just, obviously, was confused," she said during the second hearing. "I have blood-sugar issues in the afternoon where I lose concentration quite a bit."

It's not a new revelation; the L.A. Weekly reported the incident in 2010, when Lacey was first being discussed as a possible candidate, and The Times' editorial board grappled with the issue in its deliberations. More details were added in a May 20 news story (readers can view both the first and second hearing transcripts on The Times' website).

The additional reporting, unfortunately, doesn't offer any definitive answer as to how Lacey came to change her testimony. So, given everything else we know about her and how she's performed in her job over the years, we're going to take her word for it that this is not a case of dishonesty but one of inattention. We continue to believe she's the best candidate for the job.

We also believe Lacey ought to learn a lesson from the incident. There is nothing more essential to the administration of justice than the reliability of testimony and the priority that prosecutors put on being open and aboveboard with the defense. This was an employee relations hearing and not a criminal trial, but the principle is the same.

We repeat what we said in endorsing Lacey: She will need to rise to the occasion to move from chief deputy to the role of district attorney. But she, more than any other candidate, has the experience and the judgment for the job.

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