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Friday, January 18, 2013

Smith closes strong in second City Attorney debate

Los Angeles City Attorney candidate Greg Smith delivered a powerful and polished presentation at the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce City Attorney debate Thursday night.

City Attorney candidate Greg Smith clearly enjoyed having the opportunity to
inform voters of his candidacy, while Mike Feuer appears intrigued by Smith's rising stock.
Although a political novice, Smith was easily the most comfortable of the candidates in delivering his message, and he certainly looked like he was enjoying the cut and thrust of debate. His apparent ease and clarity likely gave incumbent Carmen Trutanich pause for thought. Trutanich spent the bulk of the debate forced to defending his record, something that Mike Feuer reminded the audience included setting a record $37.4M in trial losses in the last quarter of 2012. 'That money could have paid for 370 more police officers,' Feuer said.

Trutanich's record losses has been blamed on the failure of his 'Porcupine Defense,' an inane strategy  that has resulted in a string of high dollar value losses in cases that could, and should have been either prevented by risk management, or settled for sums far less than the jury verdict. Such is the level of concern at Trutanich's mismanagement of his civil litigation cases, that one of moderator Robert Kovacik's four questions challenged the candidates to state whether they favored defending the city from lawsuits at all costs, or would prefer to settle cases. All candidates but Trutanich said that they believed the answer was a combined approach, settle the cases that need to be settled while defending others. Trutanich's answer was to claim to have 'saved' $250M in 'favorable verdicts' in 134 cases out of 147. The problem, of course, is that Trutanich's 'savings' are illusory; there is no $250M stash of cash that Trutanich can point to, however, there is a $37.4M hole in the budget that Trutanich is responsible for.

NBC4 News anchor Robert Kovacik moderated the second City Attorney debate
One question that all candidates did agree on was that the position of Los Angeles City Attorney should not become an appointed one. The question was doubtless prompted by concerns expressed by the City Council that Trutanich was not able to adequately fulfill the needs of the Council. Feuer pointed out that Councilmember Paul Krekorian had recently complained of a one year delay in getting an ordinance written by Trutanich. Such is the level of concern over Trutanich's administration, that the Council will likely start using private law firms to write ordinances, something that will put further strain on the budget.

At the end of the debate, the limelight was noticeably on Smith and Feuer who seem to be leading the debates.
For Trutanich, the debates are clearly a painful experience where his poor record constantly comes home to remind the audience that his is a failed administration. His desperate claims to have miraculously re-staffed the Neighborhood Prosecutor Program with 41 attorneys, should have been met with a cheer from the audience. Instead, there was a silence that was very telling. They didn't believe it.

If the trend in the debates continues, Smith will become the man to watch. He has surpassed Trutanich in fundraising, and as his ability to deliver a message that clearly resonates increases, He will likely surpass Trutanich in the polls. Feuer, despite accusations of fundraising improprieties and a new allegation from Trutanich that he violated ethics rules at a Neighborhood Council meeting, looks unperturbed. Trutanich, who only has incumbency in his favor, but insufficient funds to reach voters, is widely thought of as likely to repeat his monumental failure in the DA primary.

With no candidate even close to obtaining the necessary 50% plus one vote to win the election in the primary, a Smith-Feuer runoff seems likely.

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