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L.A. City Atty. Trutanich gets reprieve after tough week

October 31, 2012 |  5:08 pm

After a week of setbacks, Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich got a treat from the City Council on Halloween on Wednesday as it delayed action on a proposed ballot measure asking voters to strip the city's legal adviser of some of his duties.

A majority of council members said a motion to place the measure on the March primary ballot, made last week by Councilman Paul Krekorian, needed more review.

On a 12-3 vote, the council agreed to table the motion for two weeks while Krekorian and Councilman Paul Koretz meet with Trutanich and his staff to find solutions short of 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 length of time it takes the city attorney's office to draft legislation after the council requests it. For instance, Krekorian said, it took city attorneys 11 months to draft an 2011 ordinance giving bonuses to local businesses doing work for the city.

"In that year, potentially $1 billion in procurement incentives went out the door,'' Krekorian said. Council members are left with the difficult task of explaining to constituents why promised laws were not being enacted, he said.

Krekorian said the city's current Charter, designating the elected city attorney as the city's sole legal advisor, creates the potential for the officeholder to influence legislation either by slowing it down or providing biased information.

Krekorian and other council members were quick to note that they weren't criticizing Trutanich or his staff's performance but rather a flaw in the Charter that creates political conflicts. Councilman Eric Garcetti, a candidate for mayor, agreed that Los Angeles' city attorney’s office is an "anomaly."

"We are one of a few legislative bodies that doesn’t have their own counsel working with it,'' Garcetti said. "Almost everyone has a lawyer working hand in glove with them."

Trutanich said any slowness in drafting ordinances can be traced to job cuts that his office has suffered in the last three years, losing 110 out of roughly 600 attorneys. 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 votes, Trutanich expressed a willingness to work with the council to further improve his staff's efficiency.

"We will sit down with this committee and find a way to manage this problem,'' he said.

Trutanich, weakened by a poor showing in his bid to become Los Angeles County district attorney in the June primary, was hit by other setbacks last week. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa expressed support for  separating his 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 his office to save money.


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-- Catherine Saillant at Los Angeles City Hall