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Politics, government and public life for Southern California

PHOTOS, AUDIO: LA city attorney candidates get feisty in KPCC debate

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The three leading candidates for Los Angeles City Attorney clashed in a heated debate Tuesday afternoon on KPCC’s AirTalk.

Incumbent Carmen Trutanich endured the most fire.

“Horrible morale, the deputies are constantly complaining,” private attorney Greg Smith said of Trutanich’s office. “They do not have the equipment to fulfill their duties. They don’t have a color copy machine – they haven’t had it for a year.”

“Sure, we have issues,” Trutanich said.  But he blamed budget cuts imposed by the city council and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

“Our lawyers are furloughed 36 days a year – not by me, but by the mayor,” Trutanich said.  The number of lawyers in his office has plummeted from 647 to 475, he said.

“But at the end of the day, they realize they have a real prosecutor as city attorney,” said Trutanich, who is a former deputy district attorney.

Former State Assemblyman Mike Feuer in turn unleashed on Smith: “He’s never written a law, he’s never had to handle a major public policy issue.”

Smith, who has pumped $640,000 of his own money into his campaign, said he is uniquely qualified to be city attorney. He pointed to the dozens of discrimination and workplace lawsuits he’s filed against the city on behalf of police officers and firefighters.

“I know all the weaknesses in the city attorney’s office,” Smith said. “I know exactly where to fix the problems, because I’ve litigated against them.”

Smith then took aim at Feuer's tenure in the State Legislature: “Mike has been up in Sacramento for nine years, and that is the most dysfunctional place.”

Feuer said his experience writing laws on everything from guns to children’s health would serve him well.

“The fact that I’m a lawmaker as well as a lawyer is a perfect combination for this job,” he said. “Laws I’ve written are enforced by the city attorney’s office.”

Political observers say Trutanich is vulnerable in this election because of his unexpected defeat last year in the race for L.A. County district attorney.  He had pledged to serve two terms as city attorney and not seek higher office.

“I’m not pledging anything at this point,” Trutantich said on AirTalk. “I learned a lesson about pledges — don’t make 'em.”

He said he ran for district attorney for “the right reason,” but in hindsight it was “a mistake.”

If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote in the March 5 primary, the top two finishers will compete in a May 21 runoff.

To hear the entire AirTalk debate, click here.

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