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4 candidates for L.A. city attorney spar at Hollywood forum

Sharp elbows were the order of the day as the lawyers competing for Los Angeles city attorney stumped for votes—and advantage—at a candidates forum in Hollywood on Monday night.

Held at Temple Israel and co-sponsored by the  Hollywood United Methodist Church, the forum aimed to explore how "values and ethics inform the job” of city attorney.

It was also the first time all four candidates  on the March 5 municipal  primary ballot  appeared together.  And it wasn’t long before they were  taking shots at one another or finding themselves on the defensive from questioners.

Mike Feuer, a former city councilman and state assemblyman, and City Atty. Carmen Trutanich, widely perceived as the front-runners,  bore most of the criticisms.  But  private attorney Greg Smith endured some jabs as well.  Smith is  vying with Feuer and another  private attorney, Noel Weiss,  to deny Trutanich a second term.

Trutanich and Smith  took shots at Feuer for what they saw as a critical lack of courtroom experience.  “He’s not tried a case to a jury in his life,” Smith said of the Harvard Law School-educated Feuer, who claims  he  successfully “litigated” scores of cases when he headed the nonprofit legal aid organization Bet Tzedek.    Feuer accused Trutanich of inflating his successes at defending lawsuits against the city.

 During a part of the program in which the candidates were allowed to ask questions of one another,   Feuer wanted to know why Smith had “endorsed”   a “tea party” candidate for mayor.  Smith, a Democrat, acknowledged he had  donated to  the campaign of the only Republican on the mayoral ballot, lawyer  and former radio talk-show host Kevin James, but said he had not yet decided on which, if any, candidate to endorse. 

City races are nonpartisan.

When asked about the roughly $600,000 of his own money he’s pumped into his campaign, Smith said it was  the only way he could get his message to voters.  “I’m not a political insider” who can command the level of contributions reached by Feuer and Trutanich,  Smith said.

“It’s tough,” agreed Weiss,  who raised no money when he ran for city attorney in 2009  and  said he hasn’t done so this time either.  “The special interests have got it wired.”

Weiss also slammed Feuer for accepting the endorsement of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who Weiss said cut the city attorney’s staff budget for political reasons.  Feuer said he was proud to have the backing of the mayor, with whom he had worked over the years on issues they both deemed important.

Trutanich has been repeatedly criticized for breaking a campaign  pledge  he made in the 2009 city attorney race not  to seek another office until he had served two terms at City Hall.   But he  ran for L.A. County district attorney last year,  coming in third and failing to make the runoff.    Asked again about the matter  on Monday night,  Trutanich  said, “I made a mistake” in running for the county office.

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--Jean Merl

 
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