|Budget economies could result in City Attorney Carmen Trutanich (left) having to |
cede prosecutions to the District Attorney's Office to prevent the guilty from escaping justice.
(Photo Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
City Attorney Carmen Trutanich may not be happy with the latest round of budget cuts, but he is likely to be even more unhappy if a proposal to outsource the prosecution of misdemeanor crimes to the District Attorney's Office is taken seriously.
The Los Angeles Dragnet received a copy of an email apparently sent to the Mayor, Controller and Councilmembers proposing that they consider stripping the City Attorney's Office of it's power to prosecute minor (misdemeanor) crimes, and instead contract with the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.
Trutanich's threat that he does not have sufficient staff to prosecute crimes because of the effects of the Mayor's budget cuts, appears to be the motive for the proposal.
|The 2-page proposal to hand over minor crime prosecution to|
the DA's Office includes considerable detail
The author of the proposal uses the pseudonym 'Perry Mason' apparently because he or she "fears retaliation should my true identity become known." Certainly the proposal appears to be the work of someone familiar with the workings of criminal justice system. However, it is unclear whether the plan is intended to be taken seriously, or merely to cause Trutanich further embarrassment.
Whatever the intent, the proposal will likely appeal to those in City Hall who feel that Trutanich has abused his position and power. Certainly, Trutanich's recent attempt to gain more power through having his own Grand Jury was very swiftly quashed once the Council became aware of the plan.
The 2-page "Plan to solve City Attorney budget problem" states that Trutanich's threat not to prosecute misdemeanor cases is based on a tactic known as "Block's Bluff," a strategy employed by "the late Sheriff Sherman Block" who successfully fought off budget cuts by threatening to release prisoners.
Where Trutanich's threat fails, according to Mason's plan, is that the Sheriff had the only facility to house prisoners, but the City could use the DA's office to prosecute misdemeanor cases if Trutanich cannot or will not.
The plan states that of the 88 cities in Los Angeles County, many use their City Attorneys to concentrate on civil matters, and contract with the DA's Office for the prosecution of misdemeanor crimes. Mason states that "apparently the DA's Office does a very effective job doing it."
Apart from relieving Trutanich from the burden of prosecuting misdemeanor cases, Mason claims that there are some additional benefits; LAPD would save money by only having to deal with one agency instead of two. Additionally, the DA's Office could probably handle these cases on a contract basis for less than the estimated $23M the City pays in salaries to the City Attorney's office.
As to the actual cost to the taxpayer of Trutanich's criminal division, Mason suggests that City Controller Wendy Greuel conduct an audit, much in the same way that she recently did with Trutanich's Workers Compensation division.
Perhaps anticipating an argument by Trutanich that it is important that the City retains control over the prosecution of minor crime, Mason also states that Trutanich "does not consider these cases to be particularly important" because he allows them to be prosecuted by volunteer law school graduates.
As keen as the Council may be to further limit the City Attorney's powers, those powers are enshrined in the City Charter. And therein lies the rub. Implementing the Plan would almost certainly require a Charter amendment, and that can only occur by the electoral process. Of course, that process could be initiated by motion of the Council, and would certainly make for an interesting debate.