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Monday, October 31, 2011

Asian Pacific Bar Association hosts first District Attorney Candidates' Forum

According the Los Angeles Metropolitan News Enterprise, the Asian Pacific Bar Association of Los Angeles County will host the first candidate's forum for the six declared candidates for Los Angeles County District Attorney.

District Attorney candidates (left to right) Bobby Grace, Steve Ipsen and Alan Jackson (top row)
Jackie Lacey, Danette Meyers and Mario Trujillo (bottom row) 
The District Attorney candidates' forum will take place on Wednesday, November 2, 2011, 6-8pm at the Japanese American National Museum, 369 E. 1st Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012.

According to the statement from APABA:

'Join us for a town hall discussion with all of the declared candidates for Los Angeles County District Attorney: Bobby Grace, Steve Ipsen, Alan Jackson, Jackie Lacey, Danette Meyers and Mario Trujillo.' Meet and mingle with the candidates at a reception after the program.'

'This event is proudly sponsored by Asian Pacific Bar Association of Los Angeles County and co-sponsored by the Black Prosecutors Association of Los Angeles, Black Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles, Japanese American Bar Association, John M. Langston Bar Association, Latino Prosecutors Association, Mexican American Bar Association, Muslim Public Affairs Council, Oscar Joel Bryant Foundation, South Asian Bar Association of Southern California, Southern California Chinese Lawyers Association and Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles. RSVP by October 31 to contactapaba@gmail.com (subject line "DA Forum"). Location: Japanese American National Museum, 369 E. 1st Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012. For more information, call: Asha Greenberg at (213) 978-4659.'

City Attorney Carmen Trutanich is understood
to have declined an invitation to attend the forum.
 It is understood that despite his continued pretense not to be running for District Attorney, City Attorney Carmen Trutanich was nevertheless invited to attend the forum.

However, it is highly likely that the former ambulance chaser plaintiff's attorney was advised not to participate in an open forum where he would be vulnerable to attacks on his credibility as well as questions regarding recent accusations of 'extortion.'

Trutanich would probably attend a forum where candidates appear individually and he cannot be challenged or questioned by his opponents. Trutanich took part in such a forum during his City Attorney campaign, and probably would welcome such a forum to avoid the embarrassment of being publicly confronted with his abysmal record of failures and broken promises.

While Trutanich has probably been told to run and hide from this candidates' forum and as many others as he possibly can, a new challenger, Deputy District Attorney Marcus Musante, is apparently focused on being allowed to participate.

Musante's spokesperson, Graeme Cohen, told the Dragnet that Musante has filed papers to run and will have a campaign website completed this week. 

Although APABA probably had the format and attendance of their forum arranged months ago, and Musante's surprise late entry makes fitting him into the evening's adgenda problematic, Musante will hopefully attend the forum as a visitor and 'mingle' as a candidates at the reception after the program.

It is not known whether attendees will be able to pose questions directly to the candidates during the forum, or whether they will be invited to submit their questions in writing to be posed by the moderators. In either event, the forum promises to be informative and interesting, giving the audience and the press a first glimpse at LA's next District Attorney.

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Saturday, October 29, 2011

DA Candidate Bobby Grace secures conviction in 13 year old slaying of Santa Monica tourist

District Attorney candidate Bobby Grace's tireless commitment to securing justice for victims of crime in difficult cases resulted in the first degree murder conviction of Paul Edmond Carpenter last week.

According to the Santa Monica Daily Press, jurors deliberated a day and a half before convicting Paul Edmond Carpenter, 34, of the first-degree murder of Horst Fietze, 52. The jury also found true a special circumstance allegation of murder during the course of a robbery. Carpenter, a U.S. citizen, was arrested in Kingston, Jamaica in February of 2009 where he had been living and working for several years using false identification. At the time of his arrest, Carpenter was working as a driver for a BMW dealership under the name Jermaine Thomas. Jamaican authorities deported Carpenter to the U.S. to stand trial for his crimes.

The LA Times reported that Carpenter killed Horst Fietze during a botched robbery of German tourists at the Loews Hotel in October 1998. DDA Bobby Grace presented the entire case, from jury selection to verdict, in two weeks. Carpenter will be sentenced on November 30, 2011, and faces a sentence of life in prison without parole.

The conviction of Carpenter is the third high profile murder case prosecuted by Bobby Grace this year. In March 2011, Grace convicted David Del Toro, a former Los Angeles city fire captain, of murder in the killing of 42- year-old Jennifer Flores on Aug. 16, 2006. Her naked body was found in the early morning hours that day less than a mile from his Eagle Rock home.

In June 2011, Grace convicted Omar Armando Loera, a 34 year old transient, of murder of bride-to-be Cheree Osmanhodzic in her home after she returned home from shopping for a wedding dress with her mother. Loerae stabbed Cheree and then set fire to her home.

Bobby Grace's campaign website is BobbyGrace4DA.com, and you can give him kudos for another hard fought victory for justice on his FaceBook page, or send him a kudos Tweet.

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Friday, October 28, 2011

Friday Free For All

According to the LA Weekly, another Deputy District Attorney has entered the race to take Steve Cooley's place when he retires at the end of his third term as LA County's top prosecutor.

The LA Weekly reported that Musante is "focused on trying to get into a candidates' forum next week." The forum is scheduled for November 2, 2011.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Trutanich 'extortion' accusation raises community concerns about ACE Program.

Last week's hearing on accusations that Carmen Trutanich and the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office had used 'extortion' in order to settle civil lawsuits in return for dropping criminal prosecutions has been continued to November 14, 2011.

According to the Los Angeles Metropolitan News Enterprise, Judge Georgina Torres Rizk ordered the continuance so that the District Attorney's Office can take over the case in the event that she rules that Trutanich has to be disqualified for using the threat of criminal "charges and the threat of jail to obtain an advantage in a corresponding civil suit." a  Met News Staff Writer reported.

The 'extortion' accusation was originally contained in a 17-page motion to disqualify Trutanich from the prosecution of MD Graphic Installers Inc., a Los Alamitos-based outdoor advertising installation company.

It seems that MD Graphics is not alone in accusing Trutanich of 'extortion.' The Met News reported that several other defendants have now joined in the accusation. Trutanich filed a response to the 'extortion' accusation contending that "the motion is without foundation," asserting that he has done nothing wrong.

Although Trutanich has a well-documented record of using threats of jail as a 'first response' to hot button issues, this appears to be the first time that victims of Trutanich's threats have used judicial proceedings to challenge the lawfulness of his conduct.

Billboard hypocrisy
The apparent freedom Trutanich feels he has to use the treats of criminal prosecutions to obtain cash settlements in parallel civil cases may have pleased residents angered by billboard blight. Few have sympathy for illegal billboards, indeed Trutanich himself was forced to remove his own illegal billboards after his apparent hypocrisy prompted Dennis Hathaway, president of the Ban Billboard Blight Coalition, to categorically require Trutanich to remove the illegal billboards.

Trutanich's 'extortion' plans extend beyond billboards
However, when the target shifts from using jail threats with illegal billboards to other violations of the Los Angeles Municipal Code, homeowners, renters and small businesses are now beginning to fear that Trutanich will use the same modus operandi with his much-vaunted Administrative Citation Enforcement Program (known as the 'ACE Program') to bludgeon and extort them into 'paying up or going to jail' for having an over-height yard fence, untidy front yard, cracked sidewalk paving, over-sized mailbox, or a neon store sign that is too bright, too big or just too tempting to resist for an eager code enforcement officer with a quota.

In fact the list of cash-rich targets for Trutanich's ACE Program is seemingly endless, a fact that Trutanich has doubtless boasted to Coucilmembers to gain their support. Trutanich has been desperately pitching his ACE Program as a revenue stream for the city's general fund, in the hope that their eagerness to balance the books will blind them to the extortion implicit in a program that effectively makes Trutanich the judge, jury, prosecutor and treasurer in 'administrative code enforcement' actions.

It's a very real fear that grassroots community activist Stephen Box has written about on several occasions; 'Bell tolls for Nuch's ACE Program,' and 'LA's ACE Program comes with a big tip jar.' Box seems to have spotted the same problems with Trutanich's approach to law enforcement as many others; it targets those least able to afford to defend themselves, and it uses or abuses the force of law to create a source of revenue. There's a word for that; extortion.

CM Rosendahl condemns Trutanich's ACE as 'Half-Baked'
Community concerns about Trutanich's ACE Program appear to have reached the Los Angeles City Council, with Councilmember Bill Rosendahl calling Trutanich's plan 'Half baked.' Rosendahl was, perhaps, as much incensed by Trutanich delivering a hastily revised version of ACE barely two hours before a vote on ACE was scheduled, as he was outraged by the way that Trutanich had buried, disguised or omitted critical details of how Trutanich intends to administer ACE. Rosendahl drew short of accusing Trutanich of lying about ACE, but others have been more outspoken.

Others fear 'extortion' by Trutanich
The Fair Housing Coalition recently urged stong opposition to Trutanich's ACE, accusing Trutanich of lying about his ACE Program, saying that 'A tactic the City Attorney’s office is using is saying that this Ordinance will replace Criminal Prosecution. This is a lie. In fact it will be used in addition to Criminal Prosecution.' Sounds strikingly similar to the 'extortion' accusation being made by lawyers for MD Graphics, doesn't it?

Trutanich lied about ACE during talk show interview
The Fair Housing Coalition's accusation that Trutanich lied about his ACE Program is not the first time that Trutanich has spoken falsely about ACE. Trutanich's staff were forced to admit that Trutanich had lied about ACE during an interview on the Kevin James radio show. Trutanich made several claims about ACE that were patently false; perhaps the most audacious being that he had the idea for 'ACE' when he first became City Attorney and had 'shared' the ACE Program idea with the cities of San Diego and Santa Monica. Trutanich stated that they now had the program and it was 'working just fine.'

City Attorney staff admit Trutanich lied about ACE
In reality, both cities already had their own administrative citation programs in force before Trutanich became City Attorney. Indeed, Trutanich's Chief Deputy, William Carter, admitted to the Met News that when he looked into Trutanich's 'idea' he found that 'other cities were already doing it,' Carter said. That's about as close as an admission by Carter that Trutanich lied as you'll ever get, but even Carter couldn't deny provable facts, even if his boss has no problem lying on broadcast radio.

What else has Trutanich lied about?
It's a logical question. It's a reasonable question. One who has been proven to have lied on a previous occasion, can be assumed to be lying on another occasion. One who was been hypocritical about his enforcing the law when it comes to his own billboards, can be assumed to be a hypocrite when it comes to the enforcement of the law as it relates to others. It is these questions about Trutanich's veracity and his motives that should be sending shivers up the spines of all Los Angelenos.

When the City Council finally gets to vote on the ACE Program, let's hope they have these thoughts in mind and that they balance the need of the city to be able to enforce its laws, with the need to ensure that the enforcement is fair and balanced. From the evidence presented, Trutanich seems to be the least trustworthy to be entrusted with that task. The Council can easily remove the City Attorney's Office from having any role in ACE and instead use the framework of ACE to create an independent commission to administer ACE free from any undue influence that Trutanich may chose to use.

When Judge Rizk finally rules on the accusation that Trutanich used 'extortion' to obtain multi-million dollar settlements to bankroll his cash-strapped office, let's hope that sufficient competent evidence leads her to understand the very real dangers of allowing financial expediency to overrule due process and fundamentally basic concepts of fairness and transparency. The DA's Office or the Attorney General's Office can fairly take over the prosecution of these cases free from the apparent fiscal motives displayed by Trutanich, like the way he recently tried to misappropriate a $2M settlement check from another billboard case.

'Extortion for Dummies' should not be the standard by which law is enforced in the second largest city in the nation.

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Friday, October 14, 2011

Trutanich accused of 'extortion' - prosecutorial misconduct alleged over threats of jail to obtain cash settlements

Los Angeles City Attorney, Carmen Trutanich, has been named in court papers as the leading force behind what has been described as 'extortion' for using the 'threat of criminal prosecution' to obtain settlements in civil cases.

City Attorney Carmen Trutanich is alleged to have engaged in offering to drop
criminal cases for cash payments to settle civil cases
According to a report in the Los Angeles Metropolitan News Enterprise, it appears that Trutanich filed both criminal and civil cases against individuals and their corporations, and then offered to 'drop' the criminal case if a sufficiently high sum of money were paid to settle his civil claims.

The shocking allegations have been made by Century City attorneys Stephen Morgan and Anthony Salerno on behalf of their client, Mark Allen Denny. In order to protect their client from alleged 'extortion' by Trutanich, Morgan and Salerno filed a 17-page motion outlining the alleged extortion scheme and calling for Trutanich and the City Attorney's Office to be disqualified from prosecuting the cases against Denny and his corporation.



Salerno & Associates filed a 17-page motion seeking to disqualify Trutanich
for alleged 'extortion' in their client's case.
 The Dragnet has obtained a copy of the motion, set for hearing on October 20, 2011 before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Georgina Rizk. The motion states that Trutanich's alleged 'extortion' scheme violates ethical standards established by the Supreme Court in the 2006 case of Flatley v. Mauro, and codified under California Rule of Professional Conduct 5-100(A) which states that 'A member shall not threaten to present criminal, administrative, or disciplinary charges to obtain an advantage in a civil dispute.'

'He's basically charging you with a crime with one hand, and then selling you a get out of jail card with the other' is the way that a criminal defense attorney who spoke on condition on anonymity described Trutanich's scheme of offering to 'drop' criminal charges if a sufficiently high sum of money is offered by the accused to settle a civil case. 'You don't even get a chance to argue the merits of either case,' the attorney stated, 'It's a shakedown under the color of authority, and it's an abuse of process, it's flat out wrong.' He said.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the extortion accusation is that it has taken so long for anyone to legally and ethically challenge Trutanich's apparent willingness to use the threat of criminal prosecution and incarceration to try to get his way.

History of Threats
Some might well say that Trutanich has made the threat of criminal proceedings the hallmark of his tenure as City Attorney. It started within days of his taking office with his 'bombshell' allegations that there were 'criminal aspects' to the manner in which AEG hosted the Michael Jackson memorial at the Staples Center. A claim that was apparently baseless, with Trutanich subsequently accepting a 'donation' of Lady Gaga tickets from AEG.

Trutanich also threatened to arrest Councilmember Jan Perry and Dept. of Building and Safety workers who wanted to issue AEG with permits for billboards at the Regency Cinema complex at LA Live. The billboard permits were duly issued, the billboards were erected, and no arrests were made by Trutanich or anyone else.

Last year, Trutanich threatened to send a group of students engaged in a political protest in favor of the Dream Act to jail for a year, leading to accusations that he was a 'bully,' 'thug,' and 'tyrant.' Trutanich was apparently incapable of proving that the students were 'professional protesters' as had been claimed, and the charges against the protesters were dropped.

When Judge Rizk  hears the motion there will likely be a full briefing not only Trutanich's propensity to use the threat of criminal proceedings in what appears to be an improper manner, but also on the lack of written policies and procedures to "wall off" the handling of criminal cases from civil cases.

Lack of Protocol and Procedure
Judge Rizk may be disturbed to learn that, in 2009 Trutanich requested and was supplied with editable copies of the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office Legal Policies Manual and Special Directives. Those documents establish uniform practices and policies in the prosecution cases generally, and establishes protocols to avoid the conflicts of interest apparent in the Denny case as well as other cases where parallel civil and criminal actions are pursued. However, it is believed that Trutanich has neither used the materials he requested, nor implemented any comparable policies or procedures.

Equally disturbing is the way that Trutanich apparently regards these million dollar settlements as a way of funding his office. The Denny case is one of a number of cases Trutanich has brought against the billboard industry as part of his citywide ban on unpermitted advertising signs. The cases promise to net Trutanich millions of dollars in civil damages from businesses that took advantage of LA's lax, arbitrary and inconsistent application of its own laws in the years preceding the Trutanich administration.

BillboardGate Scandal likely to be raised
Ironically, Trutanich himself seemingly violated his own citywide ban on unpermitted off-site billboards. For two years since becoming City Attorney, Trutanich had unpermitted off-site signs outside his former campaign headquarters on Ventura Blvd. The BillboardGate scandal resulted in Trutanich recently removing the signs without penalty. Trutanich's response to the allegation that he violated his own law was to issue a statement that 'the determination of the signs’ legality is not one that is made by his office,' a curious statement given that Trutanich seemingly has no difficulty determining the legality or otherwise of other signs.

Financial motives may threaten future ability to protect consumers.
Many see Trutanich's pursuit of the millions of dollars in civil penalties that his office is allowed to take as the prime motivation for his 'enforcement' of billboard laws. The use by Trutanich of Business & Professions Code 17200 and 17500 (Unfair Competition and  False Advertising Acts)  in these cases has become a source of much needed revenue for Trutanich's cash strapped office. Trutanich's alleged 'extortion' raises the question as to whether Trutanich's actions could result in the removal of these powers by the legislature, if the claims made by Morgan and Salerno are found to be true.

Such action by the legislature is not without precedent. Indeed, when the infamous Trevor Law Group was found to have abused the private right of attorneys to pursue False Advertising claims, the legislature responded by stripping away the right to recover lucrative civil penalties from private attorneys, leaving only government agencies with the right to recover million dollar penalties.  The Trevor Law Group's pursuit of thousands of false advertising claims was nothing more than an unlawful and unethical shakedown of small businesses. Some may see Trutanich's actions as differing little from the unethical practices of the Trevor Law Group especially where there appears to be a lack of procedure and protocol to ensure that criminal prosecutions are not being used to obtain civil settlements.

Attempted misappropriation of settlement check belies abuse
Trutanich himself has done little to disabuse the suggestion that he is openly violating the considerable powers vested in government agencies in the pursuit of 17200/17500 cases. Trutanich recently secured a $4M 'settlement' of such a case against CBS Outdoor. That case netted Trutanich's office a fifty percent share of the $4M settlement, money that can only be used to fund further investigation and enforcement of consumer protection laws. However, Trutanich personally took custody of a $2M of the 'settlement' and tried to divert it to his political ally, Sheriff Lee Baca, under the pretext that it should be used to fund the clearance of a rape kit backlog. Not only was that diversion improper, but at there was no actual backlog of rape kits.

Clearly more is at stake in the Denny case than whether Trutanich has engaged in the alleged 'extortion.' When his conduct in the Denny case is viewed together with the way Trutanich has freely threatened to incarcerate individuals on other occasions, and the way that he has tried to treat the proceeds of case 'settlements' as a source of revenue as well as political payback, Judge Rizk should have ample cause and little hesitation in granting the motion to disqualify Trutanich and his office from any further prosecution of the Denny case. The larger question of whether Trutanich should be allowed to continue to use his proscutorial powers to induce civil case settlements will likely be decided based on Judge Rizk's ruling.

The Met News reported that an unnamed spokesperson for Trutanich's office commented that 'our office believes this is a specious motion and we anticipate filing a response soon.' Many expect the 'response' to be similar to the recent Martin Declaration and amount to no more than a stalling tactic.

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