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L.A. City Council trying to work out conflicts with city attorney

Proposed ballot measure that could strip City Atty. Carmen Trutanich's office of some duties will be tabled while talks are held to explore other options.

November 01, 2012|By Catherine Saillant, Los Angeles Times

After a week of setbacks, Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich got a Halloween treat Wednesday from the City Council, which voted to delay action on a proposed ballot measure that could strip his office of significant legal duties.

Lawmakers said a motion made last week by Councilman Paul Krekorian to place the measure on the March primary ballot needed more review.

On a 12-3 vote, the council agreed to table the proposal for two weeks while Krekorian and Councilman Paul Koretz meet with Trutanich and his staff to seek an agreement that could avoid a ballot measure. Council members Joe Buscaino, Dennis Zine and Tony Cardenas voted no.

Krekorian and other council members say they have been frustrated by the time it takes the city attorney's office to draft legislation after the council requests it. Krekorian complained that it took city attorneys 11 months to draft a 2011 ordinance giving bonuses to local businesses doing work for the city.

Because the city attorney's office is the city's sole legal advisor, there is the potential for the department's elected leader to influence legislation either by slowing it down or providing biased information, Krekorian said.

He and other council members said they weren't criticizing Trutanich or his staff's performance but rather a flaw in the city charter that creates political conflicts.

Trutanich said any delays in drafting ordinances can be traced to cutbacks that have removed about one of every six attorneys in his office. Despite his leaner staff, deputy city attorneys have written more than 600 reports and ordinances requested, he said in a letter to the council.

After Wednesday's vote, Trutanich expressed a willingness to work with the council to further improve his staff's efficiency.

Trutanich was weakened by a poor showing in his bid to become Los Angeles County district attorney in the June primary. Last week Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa expressed support for splitting the city attorney's office into separate civil and criminal divisions. A day later, Miguel Santana, the city's top budget advisor, recommended laying off 50 deputy lawyers in Trutanich's office.

catherine.saillant@latimes.com

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