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City attorney candidates face off in combative debate

April 4, 2009 |  5:00 pm

The two candidates vying to replace Los Angeles City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo opened a combative new phase in their runoff race today during a debate that took on a nasty tone from the opening round.

During the Hollywood forum, Carmen “Nuch” Trutanich, an attorney, and Westside City Councilman Jack Weiss often avoided making eye contact and handing the microphone to each other. 

Trutanich cast Weiss as a legal “novice” with little to show for his two terms on the City Council. Weiss hammered Trutanich for representing polluters and sharing a law practice with an attorney for the National Rifle Association, among other gun groups.

At various points during the hour-and-a-half debate, Weiss stood inches from Trutanich, jabbing his finger in the air and demanding that Trutanich disclose all of his firm’s clients.

“You are a walking, talking conflict of interest. You need to tell the people of this city who the conflicts are, and how much it's going to cost us,” Weiss said, arguing that the city would be forced to spend millions of additional dollars on outside counsel if any of Trutanich’s former clients faced the city in court. “Please do us a favor now, rather than on July 1, of fessing up on who your clients are."

“Here’s a guy who is in the back pocket of almost every developer in the city telling me to disclose something?” Trutanich retorted. Questioning Weiss’s accomplishments, he continued: “He fell asleep on his shovel and woke up to run for city attorney. There’s an entitlement about him -- he feels he’s entitled to this job and he’s not, because he’s done nothing to deserve it.”

The debate set the stage for an acerbic six-week countdown to the May 19 runoff, when city voters will also decide who should replace Weiss in the 5th council district.

The city attorney’s race was once thought to be an easy mark for Weiss, who was endorsed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton. He amassed at least a $1.7-million war chest for the primary phase of the campaign.

But Trutanich secured the endorsements of the Los Angeles County district attorney and sheriff and raised nearly $800,000 with the help of matching funds.

In the low-turnout city primary on March 3, Weiss drew first place among five candidates with 36% of the vote, and Trutanich took second with 27%. Under city rules, both candidates have begun fundraising from scratch for this second phase of the campaign.

--Maeve Reston