Judge: Carmen Trutanich's ballot title 'misleading'
A judge Monday described City Atty. Carmen Trutanich's attempt to call himself “Los Angeles Chief Prosecutor” on the June election ballot as “misleading,” ruling that Trutanich cannot use either of his favored ballot titles in his bid for county district attorney.
The ruling sided with one of Trutanich’s main rivals in the race for D.A., Alan Jackson, who filed a legal challenge contending that the city attorney was trying to “create confusion” with his ballot titles.
“This guy is a pathological liar,” said Jackson’s political strategist, John Thomas, after the hearing. “Now we have a judge who is agreeing with us.”
Nevertheless, Trutanich’s campaign hailed Monday’s ruling as “another victory in court” for the city attorney, noting in a statement that the judge rejected Jackson’s argument that Trutanich was too far removed from the day-to-day work of his courtroom attorneys to use the description “prosecutor.” The judge ruled that Trutanich can call himself “Los Angeles City Prosecutor” on the June 5 ballot.
Jackson accused Trutanich of selecting “chief prosecutor” -- and “chief criminal prosecutor” as a possible alternative -- in a deliberate attempt to mislead voters into thinking he was already the county’s district attorney. The D.A. is responsible for prosecuting felony cases throughout the county, while the city attorney generally advises city government officials and prosecutes misdemeanors within Los Angeles’ city limits.
Trutanich’s lawyer, Stephen J. Kaufman, argued that his client did work as a prosecutor, noting that his name appears at the top of criminal filings handled by his office and that he is personally involved in deciding whether some cases should be filed and how they should be resolved. More than 200 of the office’s 500 lawyers handle criminal prosecutions, including cases involving gang crimes, sexual abuse and domestic violence, Kaufman said.
Superior Court Judge Joseph Kalin ruled that Trutanich should have made clear that his work involved the city rather than the county of Los Angeles and took issue with his use of the word “chief.” But he agreed with Kaufman’s argument that Trutanich could call himself a prosecutor.
“He is a prosecutor, even though he may not walk into the courtroom,” Kalin told Jackson’s attorney. The judge ordered the county’s top election official not to allow Trutanich to use either of his chosen ballot titles “or any similar misleading derivation.”
Jackson’s campaign called the judge’s decision an important legal victory. Jackson has repeatedly accused Trutanich of trying to mislead the public, citing, among other issues, a pledge he made during the 2009 city attorney’s election not to run for higher office until he had served two terms.
In his statement after Monday’s ruling, Trutanich’s senior political consultant, John Shallman, attacked Jackson’s own ballot title of “gang homicide prosecutor” as “bogus.” Trutanich had criticized the description in court papers, noting that it was not an official position in the district attorney’s office, but never asked a judge to stop Jackson from using the title. Jackson is the assistant head of the district attorney’s major crimes division.
Trutanich and Jackson are among six candidates vying to replace Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, who is retiring after three terms. The others include: Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey; Deputy Dist. Atty. Danette Meyers; Deputy Dist. Atty. Bobby Grace; and Deputy Dist. Atty. John L. Breault III.
Photo: Carmen Trutanich. Credit: L.A. Times