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L.A. city attorney candidates face off Wednesday night

March 20, 2013 | 10:58 pm

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In their first face-to-face confrontation of the runoff campaign, Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich and former lawmaker Mike Feuer agreed on at least one thing: Each has a very different view of what it takes to be the city’s top lawyer.

Trutanich told a gathering of about 200 lawyers at a Chinatown banquet hall Wednesday night that his “real-life experiences in a courtroom” and “proven track record” in reducing civil lawsuit payouts and prosecuting miscreants makes him the better choice in the May 21 election.

“This is a job for real lawyers,” Trutanich said in one of many digs at Feuer’s lack of courtroom experience. Trutanich said that under his watch, the city attorney's office has saved taxpayers $285 million in judgments while crime has dropped 23% and the office budget has been cut severely over four years.

Feuer said there is far more to the office than trying misdemeanors and defending the city in civil suits. He said he would set better priorities and work collaboratively with other elected officials, municipal departments and community leaders to solve some of the city’s most pressing issues.  He said his varied experiences, heading a legal aid organization, serving on the City Council and in the state Assembly and working at two private law firms, gave him the background and skills to bring more to the city attorney job.

Feuer said he sees the role as “problem solver in chief” and criticized Trutanich’s successes in going after ticket scalpers and sign-ordinance violators, saying such issues as neighborhood revitalization should be a higher priority.

“It’s not a policy office, it’s a law office,” Trutanich retorted later in the forum.

The debate, sponsored by the Italian American Lawyers Assn., the legal newspaper Metropolitan News-Enterprise and other attorney organizations, gave Feuer, a Harvard Law School graduate, and Trutanich, a former L.A. County prosecutor and onetime head of a private law firm, an opportunity to make their cases to their peers.

The dinner forum at Casa Italiana came the same day the Feuer campaign released a clutch of endorsements from former City Atty. Ira Reiner and other law community leaders, including the presidents of the California and Los Angeles County bar associations, and Feuer made sure to take note of them Wednesday night.

“Endorsements matter,” Feuer said, adding the ones from Reiner and other attorneys were “pivotal. ... Who do the leaders of the lawyers support?”

Trutanich arguably had more at stake in the debate. He has been trying to play catch-up since finishing behind Feuer, 44% to 30%, in the four-way municipal primary earlier this month. Trutanich, who won the office four years ago by upsetting a city councilman backed by the mayor, decided to seek reelection after losing his bid for county district attorney last year, which put him on the defensive and gave him a late start in fundraising.

Feuer, who spent $1.2 million to Trutanich’s $772,000, got into the race months earlier and began raising money while Trutanich was still campaigning for district attorney.


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Photo: City Atty. Carmen Trutanich, left, and challenger Mike Feuer shake hands before their debate Wednesday night. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times