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Tensions rise between Feuer and Trutanich in city attorney's race

The incumbent says the challenger has never tried a courtroom case. Feuer's camp points out three errors in a Trutanich mailer. Greg Smith plans to pour his own money into the race.

February 17, 2013|By Jean Merl, Los Angeles Times
  • Tensions between incumbent City Attorney Carmen Trutanich and former Assrmblyman Mike Feuer are escalating in the closing weeks of the primary election campaign.
Tensions between incumbent City Attorney Carmen Trutanich and former… (Los Angeles Times )

Ahead in fundraising and awash in endorsements, former lawmaker Mike Feuer's campaign for Los Angeles city attorney is filling mailboxes and sending automated phone calls to voters. Incumbent Carmen Trutanich has come out swinging against Feuer, his best-positioned challenger in the March 5 primary, while dark-horse candidate Greg Smith is poised to put more of his own cash into TV spots to boost his name ID.

As the race for the city's top lawyer enters its final weeks, the campaign styles of its main contenders are coming into sharper relief. And tensions are escalating between Feuer and Trutanich — two very different men with sharply contrasting views of the job.

Trutanich emphasizes his long legal career, first serving as a deputy district attorney, then heading a private law firm before winning the city attorney's job in 2009, his first bid for elected office. He touts his substantial courtroom experience while pointing out that Feuer has none. One of Trutanich's recent mailers describes him as "a hands on city attorney with real courtroom experience," then adds: "Mike Feuer has NEVER tried a single case in a courtroom … not one single case."

Feuer doesn't dispute that he has not been a prosecutor but says his own broad experience makes him better suited. Besides prosecuting misdemeanors, the city attorney's office provides advice to city officials, including reviewing proposed municipal laws, and represents the city in civil cases. Feuer says his years leading Bet Tzedek, which provides legal services to the poor, and his work on the Los Angeles City Council and in the state Assembly make him a "perfect fit" for the city attorney post.

Trutanich, during a candidates' debate on KPCC-FM (89.3), took issue with Feuer's statement, that, at Bet Tzedek, he had supervised "hundreds" of lawyers. Although acknowledging that the nonprofit legal aid organization had about 25 staff attorneys, Feuer said his statement was correct because he also directed the work of hundreds of outside lawyers doing pro bono work for the group. The Trutanich camp calls that "padding his resume."

Even a past city official has been caught in the crossfire. Former Councilwoman Ruth Galanter said she was surprised to see herself quoted in a Trutanich campaign press release that played off a Times story about termed-out state legislators seeking city council offices.

"I thought I should point out that I have endorsed Mike Feuer," Galanter wrote in an email. Her comments were "about the council elections, but the Trutanich campaign seems to think I was also referring to the city attorney race."

The Feuer campaign pounced on a Trutanich mailer claiming "Feuer Fails Our Children," pointing our three "errors" in its summation of some of Feuer's votes. "He's lying," a Feuer spokesman said, but a Trutanich representative said Feuer last year quietly changed some of his votes after the roll call, including on AB 2263, to seal records of some felons. Critics of the practice, which is allowed in the Assembly if it doesn't change the outcome, say it enables lawmakers to hide their real intent on controversial measures.

Except for a mailer highlighting a quote from Trutanich acknowledging that the National Rifle Assn. had been one of his private firm's clients, the Feuer campaign has stayed positive. It has promoted Feuer's "neighborhood walks" with voters and has been sending out almost daily announcements of endorsements. They include those of basketball-legend-turned-businessman Magic Johnson (who had backed Feuer's opponent in his unsuccessful run for city attorney in 2001 and who has made a radio ad for Feuer this time), former LAPD Chief William J. Bratton (who also made a recorded phone message to voters), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the L.A. County Democratic Party, several labor unions, the Valley Industry & Commerce Assn. and more than 1,000 "citizen endorsements."

Rick Taylor, Trutanich's chief strategist, downplayed the significance of endorsements but sent out a mailer featuring the incumbent's backing from former Mayor Richard Riordan. Taylor noted three independent polls, including an automated phone survey commissioned last month by KABC-TV Channel 7, showing his client ahead. "The people who matter are voters," Taylor said. "I'll take those endorsements."

John Thomas, Smith's consultant, sees the mudslinging as an opportunity for his lesser-known candidate "to sneak up the middle" and grab one of the two slots in an expected runoff. He said Smith, a private attorney who has made millions representing police and firefighters in whistle-blower and discrimination lawsuits, is adding a "substantial" amount to the $620,000 of his own funds he already put into the race. He'll spend much of that on television "so voters know they have a choice" other than Feuer and Trutanich.

Noel Weiss, another private attorney on the ballot, has not spent money on a campaign.

jean.merl@latimes.com

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