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.



Anonymous said...

Can you at least post a version of the motion that is high enough resolution so we can read it?

Joe Friday said...

2:36AM Thanks for pointing out the problem with the image file. This has now been fixed. You can view the motion using the links in the post, or by clicking here.

Anonymous said...

This motion has several fatal flaws. It will be denied.

Anonymous said...

I agree with 3:38, this motion has some flaws, and it might be denied. Morgan should have included the allegations about Trutanich trying to divert the $2M check to Baca, and him not adopting the Legal Policies Manual like he promised, and the analogy to the Trevor Law Group. It's conduct like that which really gets the attention of judges. He should also have mentioned that Trutanich was a plaintiff's attorney before he became city attorney - a freakin ambulance chaser.

There are apparently several other cases where Trutanich has used criminal cases to settle 17200/17500 actions, so depending on how Judge Rizk rules, those attorneys will adjust their motions accordingly.

Anonymous said...

The language in the motion reads like it was written by someone on the inside, or with their help. Who else would know so many details? Remember, it was leaks from the office that got Rocky into trouble, and Noooch is hated by his own people even more than Rocky was.

Anonymous said...

Motion looks good to me. Certainly good enough to raise appearance of impropriety by Trutanich. Full evidentiary hearing should flesh out all the ugly details. Wonder if Berger will be subpoenaed to testify? Could be really interesting, we might finally get some answers about what really happened at the City Attorney's Office.

Anonymous said...

@4:20 People at the city attorneys office love Nuch! He is their hero. They are loyal to their leader and don't care that they have to take a 15% pay cut while he and his special essential people get full pay, cars, flexcards, blackberrys and paid travel. The people who elected Nuch want a strong leader who knows how to play dirty and get results. We have a Sheriff who knows how to make jail miserable for crooks, and soon we will have a DA who knows how to put more people there. Nuch for DA!

Anonymous said...

Pierce Brosnan is hosting a fundraiser for Trutanich. Disgusting. No this is not a joke. Do these people not know what a charlatan Trutanich is? Berger, you're English, can't you talk some sense into Pierce Brosnan. Carmen Trutanich used the CA's office as a stepping stone to DA and he won't stop with the DA's office. I want to know when the mainstream press is going to come out and expose Carmen for what he really is. We can't have the DA's office in the hands of this moron.

Anonymous said...

Debate is November 2. Someone needs to make sure Carmen is invited. He will decline the invitation for sure because he knows he will be destroyed by all the other candidates.

Anonymous said...

Why was Mario Trujillo attending the "How to Become a Judge" seminar downtown? Does he want to be judge or DA?

Anonymous said...

Berger, heads up. Nuch is close to imploding and is frothing at the mouth about your blog trashing him constantly. That guy Brent Braun who was tweeting you about the extortion story at the weekend, was told by Nuch to get you to back down. If you check the Ethics Commission website, you will see Braun was a contributor to Nuch's campaign, so you know where that's coming from You are not 'demeaning' DDAs or the DA's office, you are doing a great job of telling the truth about this bully.

Oh, and one last thing, take a real close look at that $4M 'settlement' with CBS Outdoors, you could find a real interesting scam there - like maybe that money should have gone to the general fund, but Nuch has it dressed up so he could split it with Baca?

Anonymous said...

Watch out for Trutanich, when (not if) he loses it, it could get very nasty. He gets all red in the face, with his eyes bulging and spit dribbling and spraying from his mouth as he screams, rants and raves, pointing his finger in your face and speaking in half sentences. He wants to shut you down Mr. Dragnet, so get ready.

Anonymous said...

Dragent, are you endorsing Michelle Bachman for President? She's the only qualified candidate.

Anonymous said...

5:13 LOL

Anonymous said...

The real story behind this is that they are after a company owned by a man who only does manual labor for the big media companies and propety owners who have made millions. The media companies and property owners are dishing out millions and now they are punishing the guy that just supplied the labor? I have read this story and it sounds quite odd that everyone is settling and they are persecuting this one company with such vigor. I am sure there is more to these huge settlements than meets the eye. Trutanich and his allied bullies are finding themselves in a difficult situation if it gets out to the mainstream media what is really going on? On that note, why isn't the LA Times covering this? Hmmm...maybe pro-Trutanich or maybe he threatened to jail the editor if anything negative was published?

Anonymous said...

Trutanich was named Prosecutor of the Year, and just received the endorsement from Bond, James Bond.

He'll be hard to beat.

Anonymous said...

The Ventura Blvd billboards were kinda funny, the free office rent scandal will probably result in a slap on the wrist, but the extortion accusation will really dog Trutanich, and he knows it. That's why he is trying so hard to shut down anyone who dares to speak against him.

He will be a no-show at the DA Candidates debate because he knows that every candidate had printouts from the Dragnet to screw with him and he cannot defend himself against his inconvenient truths without Shallman or one of his flunkies to cover for him.

I hear that one of the candidates has a modified version of CALCRIM 105 on credibility of witnesses to read out which basically calls Trutanich a liar on past occasions; the Pledge to Serve and statements from the Kevin James Show when Trutanich tried to make out he was involved in the prosecution of the Dodgers Stadium thugs who beat up Bryan Stowe.

Save the date, November 2, 2011.

Anonymous said...

Someone should send an official invitation to Trutanich to the debate, via certified mail, so he can't say he didn't know about it - because we all know he's going to be a no show until after the primary.

Last time I checked Daniel Craig was 007 - Pierce Brosnan is washed up, just like Carmen Trutanich. Can you remember the last movie Pierce Brosnan did? Can you remember the last trial Trutanich did? Hmmmm

Anonymous said...

8:15 Carmen Trutanich has NOT been named prosecutor of the year nor will he ever be. He was given a phony award for innovations in criminal justice for doing his job basically, injunctions against gangs (that don't work) and civil lawsuits which every CA is supposed to do. Nothing he has done has been innovative.

Anonymous said...

Pierce Brosnan won't be so keen on Trutanich when he sees the video of Truanich screaming at that poor cancer patient. It was just like 5:01PM says, the stupid f*ck lost it big time, and it's on camera. Google "Trutanich screams at cancer patient" and just imagine what a great campaign ad that will make - for anyone who wants to make sure Trutanich ends his political career on a 'high' note.

Anonymous said...

11.14pm i think Trutanich got the Persecutor of the Year award.

Anonymous said...

Where's the debate and who's sponsoring it?

Anonymous said...

I heard a rumor that Trutanich will not be attending the DA candidates forum hosted by the Asian Pacific American Bar Association next week on November 2. Can the Dragnet confirm?

Also heard that Trutanich's extortion accusation hearing got continued by the judge - apparently she wants the the DA's office or the AG's office to be there for the hearing. I bet Trutanich had a cow when he heard that!

Anonymous said...

trutanich did receive prosecutor of the year and will defeat the motion, which is so poorly written and full of flaws it is laughable. it is doubtful that the person who drafted the motion has even passed the bar. it reads like berger wrote it. oh, i forgot, berger only writes on his blog all day. has anyone ever seen any actual work product from berger? does he work on cases? i hope someone does a public records act request for the time sheets for berger and his supervisors. what do they do all day?

Anonymous said...