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Editorial

Why target Trutanich?

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has floated a plan to dilute the city attorney's power. That's unnecessary. Let the voters decide.

October 25, 2012
  • Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich speaks to a group of dignitaries at the Angel's Gate Lighthouse Completion ceremony at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro.
Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich speaks to a group of dignitaries… (Los Angeles Times )

Mayor Villaraigosa, City Council, get a grip. Just because you don't like City Atty. Carmen Trutanich, that's no reason to ask voters to divide his office in two, taking away all his civil (as opposed to criminal) legal work and handing it to a separate, non-elected city lawyer. If the people don't like their city attorney or any of their other elected officials, they know what to do about it, and they can do it every four years.

Various members of the council have tangled with Trutanich from the beginning of his tenure, and it's no wonder. They think of themselves as his clients, and clients like lawyers they can hire and fire. Council members like lawyers who say, "Tell me what you want to do and I'll figure out a legal way to do it." They don't much care for lawyers who are independently elected and are accountable to their real clients — the people of the city of Los Angeles. Frustrated council members have hired their own lawyer and have discussed splitting the city attorney's office.

Now Villaraigosa has floated the idea of a charter amendment to do just that, but of course the mayor probably figures the appointed city attorney would work for him, not the council. Los Angeles has to cut costs, the mayor says, and appointing a lawyer would be a money-saver.

It's not hard to see what's really going on here. It's only too apparent that the proposal to split the office — a perennial, and perennially rejected, idea — is a jab directed more at Trutanich than at the city's budget problem.

It would be foolish to restructure city government to work around one particular official. There are parallels in county government. The five supervisors are asking voters (in Measure A, on the November ballot) whether they should give up their power to elect assessors, because, after all, the last one they voted in, John Noguez, has been arrested and charged with corruption. With revelations about Sheriff Lee Baca's mismanagement of county jails, similar questions may be asked about his office.

But let's ask the questions for the right reason. The people of Los Angeles have to decide whether there is something about electing an assessor, a sheriff or a city attorney that inevitably leads to failure, or whether elections, instead of being the problem, are the solution. In the case of Trutanich, the real clients will handle his rehiring or firing when they vote on March 5. We'll see then, after the voters have spoken, whether the questions about the structure of the office evaporate.

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