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Former U.S. Atty. Debra Yang named to L.A. police commission

August 13, 2009 | 11:06 am

Debrayang A prominent attorney has been tapped to join the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners, filling out the depleted civilian panel at a pivotal time as it begins the search for a replacement for outgoing Police Chief William J. Bratton.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced his nomination of former U.S. Atty. Debra Wong Yang to the commission this morning at a news conference held during the opening of the city's new, high-tech Emergency Operations Center in downtown Los Angeles.

Saying the decision came after a "long, exhaustive search," the mayor praised Yang, 49, who also once served as a Superior Court judge. "She will serve with the integrity that has become the hallmark of her career and help transition the LAPD in this historic time."

Yang's nomination must still be voted on by the City Council when it returns from summer recess, but their approval is likely. She would fill a seat on the five-person panel left open when former Commission President Anthony Pacheco left after several years to more fully pursue his legal career.

Bratton announced last week that he plans to resign at the end of October as head of the Los Angeles Police Department. The commission is responsible for sorting through candidates who apply for the post and presenting Villaraigosa with three finalists.

Yang, a fourth-generation Angeleno who grew up in Chinatown, said in a brief interview that she had no preconceived notions of who the next chief should be, but wants the person to continue to build on what she described as the "tremendous strides that have been made" in the last several years as the department has implemented sweeping reforms called for in federal consent decree that was recently lifted."

"I would like to see that momentum on diversity and ... the approach the department is taking on how it polices to be represented in the next selection," she said.

"This is an important time for the LAPD and for Los Angeles,” Yang added in a statement. “I am honored to have the opportunity to work with the mayor on police issues, the selection of a new chief and making important steps now that the consent decree has ended."

As a judge and U.S. attorney, Yang has dealt with the LAPD on many occasions. Cops were frequent witnesses during trials in her courtroom and she recalled the formative experience of having been in the U.S. attorney's office at the time of the Rodney King beating and the subsequent riots that wracked the city.

She is a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher’s Los Angeles office, where she co-chairs the firm’s crisis-management practice group and the white-collar defense and investigations practice group. She will remain at the firm full-time, taking off Tuesday mornings for the lengthy commission meetings, along with the considerable number of meetings, ride-alongs, and other engagements with community leaders and police that commission members are expected to join.

She served as U.S. attorney for the Central District of California beginning in 2002, when she was appointed by President George W. Bush, making her the first Asian American woman to serve as United States attorney. In the post, Yang was selected to serve as chairman of the Attorney General Advisory Committee on Cyber/Intellectual Property, a background which could prove helpful as the department frequently clashes with union leaders over how to protect electronically stored information about officers.

"I am very excited about this," Yang said. "I feel very committed to this city. We are such a beautiful city because of the mix of cultures we have. But I believe we can do better with respect to how we interact with each other."

-- Phil Willon and Joel Rubin

Photo: Deborah Wong Yang in 2005. Credit: Reed Saxon / Associated Press

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