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Trutanich, Feuer spar at L.A. city attorney debate

The candidates argue over what it takes to lead one of the largest government legal offices in the nation.

November 16, 2012|By Catherine Saillant, Los Angeles Times
  • Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich in February; Assemblyman Mike Feuer in 2008.
Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich in February; Assemblyman Mike… (Los Angeles Times )

In a fiery political debate, Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich portrayed himself as a trusty guardian of the city's treasury, while opponent Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles) called Trutanich's first term more "bluster" than performance.

Their hourlong debate at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks on Wednesday touched on medicinal marijuana, the death penalty, taxes and truants. But the testiest moments came as the candidates sparred over what it takes to lead one of the largest government legal offices in the nation.

Feuer condemned Trutanich for failing to take the same pay cut that the attorneys in his office have endured because of furloughs imposed by the City Council. To do so would not be a political stunt, Feuer said, but a statement of leadership.

"I think leaders need to stand with their troops," Feuer said. "So I say I take a pay cut equal to them."

Trutanich shot back that he earned his pay, about $214,000 a year, by helping to keep the city's crime rate at the lowest it has been in decades and by managing a budget that has been cut 30% in recent years.

"We live on my salary," Trutanich said, pointing to his wife sitting in the audience. "We are not a rich family."

Feuer accused Trutanich of dropping the ball in regulating marijuana dispensaries, saying the ordinance his office provided was so ineffective that the City Council reversed course and banned all pot shops.

Trutanich countered that striking the right balance is difficult because of ambiguities in state and federal laws, something Feuer is well aware of, he said. Feuer, during his three terms in the Legislature, could have helped to solve the problem but didn't, Trutanich said.

"We wouldn't have to do this if the Legislature had acted," Trutanich said.

Trutanich and Feuer were invited to debate by the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn. Trutanich is seeking a second term in office. Feuer, in his third and final term in the Assembly, is seeking to replace Trutanich in next year's election. Feuer was previously a Los Angeles councilman and an attorney.

Two other candidates, attorneys Noel Weiss and Greg Smith, were not invited to participate in the debate.

Trutanich began his tenure in 2009 with a bang when he threatened to file criminal and civil charges against AEG entertainment executives, the developers of Staples Center and L.A. Live in downtown, if they didn't repay the city for extra police provided for superstar Michael Jackson's funeral. AEG eventually agreed to a settlement, and no charges were filed.

Trutanich has also bumped heads with the council over his push to include all city departments, including those run by elected officials, in mandatory audits. He has allowed his own department to be audited, the city attorney told Wednesday's debate audience.

Earlier in the day, he re-emphasized the issue by calling for a voter-approved charter amendment that would close the loophole exempting elective offices from audits. Trutanich would need the City Council's approval to get the measure on next year's ballot.

Some council members have criticized the city attorney's office as being too slow in preparing ordinances they want to see enacted. Trutanich says deep cuts to his department have made it tougher to get work done.

Perhaps his biggest setback came earlier this year when he announced that he would seek Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley's job, backing out of a campaign pledge to finish his city attorney term before running for another office. Despite his greater name recognition, Trutanich placed third on the June ballot and was knocked out of the race, subsequently won by Jackie Lacey.

catherine.saillant@latimes.com

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