Why LA City Attorney Carmen Trutanich wants 'chief prosecutor' title, sparking fight over ballot job title

Skid Row activists surround Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich.
Skid Row activists surround Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich.
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Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich wants “Los Angeles Chief Prosecutor” to be his official job title on the ballot when he runs for district attorney. (His second choice? "Chief Criminal Prosecutor.")

Job titles can make a big difference in an election, especially if you’re running for an office that will appear on the second or third page of a ballot. By then, weary voters often decide how to vote by simply looking at candidates' current jobs.

Trutanich figures voters would be more apt to choose a "Chief Prosecutor" than a "City Attorney" to be their future DA. Under election rules, candidates may use only three words for a job title.

But one opponent, Deputy DA Alan Jackson, says Trutanich's proposed title is “factually untrue, confusing and misleading.” In a court challenge, Jackson points out Trutanich, who is the frontrunner in the race, handles only misdemeanors, and never personally prosecutes cases.

"As City Attorney, Trutanich is at most the 'titular' supervisor of those who actually carry out this work," Jackson said in his challenge.

Trutanich campaign consultant John Shallman says the title is accurate because Trutanich oversees 300 city attorneys who handle "75 percent of LAPD cases."

"It's written in the city charter that he's the chief prosecutor," Shallman said.

Jackson also accuses Trutanich of trying to mislead voters into believing he is chief prosecutor for the whole county, not just the city. "Trutanich has no authority beyond the bounds of the city limits," he said in his challenge.

Elections law attorney Frederic Woocher says a judge may order a different job title if it is accurate, but misleading.

"'Chief Prosecutor' could sound like he's the D.A., and the incumbent," Woocher says. "Its all about context."

The District Attorney's Office prosecutes more than 60,000 felonies annually from across L.A. County. Six people are running for the office. The primary is in June.