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In Los Angeles City Attorney's race, NRA takes center stage

by: Dante Atkins

Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 00:42:18 AM PST


Full disclosure: I, as well as many organizations with which I am affiliated, have endorsed Mike Feuer for Los Angeles City Attorney.

Politicos in Los Angeles don't get a break after Presidential elections. In the Southland, we have to make a practically immediate pivot from our national November elections to our biennial Municipal elections, which occur in March of odd-numbered years. For Angelenos, this election is more contentious than any cycle since 2005, when Antonio Villaraigosa defeated Kenneth Hahn in a rematch of Hahn's 2001 victory. Mayor Villaraigosa is termed out, and the battle to replace him is taking up a substantial amount of oxygen. But as the presumed frontrunners in the mayoral race campaign to define both themselves and their opponents, there is already a strong contrast in the race for City Attorney.

The incumbent City Attorney is an independent--from a party point of view, at least--named Carmen Trutanich. Trutanich was elected in 2009 after defeating unpopular City Councilmember Jack Weiss in a runoff. Despite having pledged to serve two terms and not run for another office while serving as City Attorney, however, Trutanich ran to succeed Republican Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, whom you might remember from his narrow 2010 loss to Kamala Harris in the California Attorney General race. Trutanich's campaign, though, did not go as planned. Conventional wisdom among the political class in Los Angeles said that Trutanich would win easily because of his advantage in both money and endorsements. But voters apparently held him accountable for violating his pledge: he failed to even make the general election. thus guaranteeing that to salvage his political career, he would have to actually fulfill at least part of his pledge and run for a second term as Los Angeles City Attorney. Keep in mind, however, that to really fulfill his pledge, Trutanich would have to do this, since he already violated it by running for District Attorney in the first place:

Should the pledge be violated, a penalty of $100,000 must be paid to LA's Best After School Program from the violator's personal funds. In addition, the candidate breaking the Pledge must purchase one full-page newspaper advertisement in every daily newspaper in Los Angeles to be run on the first Sunday following the breach of the Pledge. The ad must include a large headshot of the candidate in question, a copy of the Pledge and the words, "I AM A LIAR", in large block print.

We're still waiting for that, and I imagine we'll be waiting for quite a while. In any case, Trutanich' main obstacle in his unanticipated quest for re-election is former Assemblymember Mike Feuer, who was commonly viewed during his time in office as one of California's most effective legislators. Feuer has received the unanimous backing of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party and is the consensus choice of most grassroots Democratic groups throughout the city. The reasons why go far beyond the obvious fact that Feuer is a Democrat, while Trutanich is not. There are significant issues of contrast, perhaps most notably on the hot-button issue of gun control.

Before becoming the City Attorney, Carmen Trutanich was a co-owner of a firm called Trutanich Michel LLP. Now that Trutanich is in the City Attorney's office, the firm has rebranded itself as Michel and Associates, P.C., though the firm declares that despite Trutanich's departure, all the talented attorneys and staff have remained. What's notable about the this law firm? Well, they were and still are the go-to law firm for the National Rifle Association:

Our clients include the National Rifle Association, the California Rifle and Pistol Association, law enforcement agencies and officers, industry trade associations, gun shows, importers, manufacturers, distributors, dealers, indoor and outdoor shooting ranges, special-effects companies, prop houses, armories, pyrotechnicians, and individuals who face firearms-related federal or state licensing and compliance issues or criminal charges. Michel & Associates, P.C. is Consulting Counsel to firearm retailer advocate FFLGuard for all California legislative and litigation issues.

And what would you go to them for? Well, if you want to get laws overturned that were passed by gun rights advocates:

Whether challenging a law's constitutionality, advocating to invalidate or change a law, or simply determining the most cost-effective way to comply with it, our lawyers have been there. We know where to find answers when illogical, ill-conceived and poorly implemented laws do not provide them. We know the state and local requirements and politics. Our network of professional relationships includes politicians and political staffers, as well as staff at regulatory agencies administrating firearms laws.

As a matter of fact, Trutanich's former partner Chuck Michel even maintains CalGunLaws.com, an advocacy and information site for gun rights activists. So, this is how Carmen Trutanich made his money in the private sector: being paid by the NRA to challenge gun safety laws designed to protect the public. No surprise, then, that Trutanich got the endorsement of the NRA during his 2009 race. But who wrote many of those laws? Mike Feuer.

Mike Feuer used to serve on the Los Angeles City Council before being elected to the State Assembly in 2006. During his time on both bodies, Feuer authored legislation on many issues of interest to gun safety advocates, including requiring sale of trigger locks, background checks and bullet sale restrictions, record keeping, and limiting gun purchases to one per month. Mike Feuer has been endorsed by the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence, and recently released his own plan to curb gun violence in Los Angeles.

Trutanich, on the other hand, profited off of the NRA to oppose exactly this type of legislation during his private-sector career. During his 2009 campaign, Trutanich took the NRA line, claiming that "we don't need more laws to control guns. We have the laws. We just need to enforce them." But now, ever the political opportunist who will say what he has to in order to win, Trutanich is taking the exact opposite line. Trutanich recognizes that this re-election bid--which, keep in mind, he never wanted to wage in the first place--hinges on increased popular demand for gun safety laws owing to the Sandy Hook tragedy. Still, there are some areas of policy disagreement, as well as signs that Trutanich still can't put his NRA past behind him.

During his last term in the Assembly, Feuer passed a bill in the Assembly requiring microstamping of guns, which would make law enforcement investigations easier. As the LA Weekly reports, Trutanich and his allies are opposing this law:

The bill requires that all semi-automatic handguns sold in California be equipped with a microstamp that imprints a numeric code on the shell casing when the gun fires. Police can then use the code on the casing to find out who purchased the gun. The measure was backed by the Brady Campaign and by dozens of California police chiefs and sheriffs, including LAPD Chief Bill Bratton and L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca.

Taylor noted that the law, which was signed in 2007, still has not been implemented. The New York Times reported last year that the measure has been held up due to a patent dispute, and due to the maneuvering of gun rights organizations.

"Maybe it's unworkable, impractical," Taylor said. "So far, Mr. Feuer's micro-stamping bullet plan seems like it's more of a gun control stunt, than a solution."

In an interview, Feuer said it was "breathtaking" for Trutanich's campaign to "trivialize something that is so important to the sheriff and the police chief in his jurisdiction."

Feuer has rightfully made an issue of Trutanich's NRA-funded past, calling on him to return the profits he received from opposing California's laws at its increasingly radical behest. Trutanich, meanwhile, who has not disclosed how much he profited from working from the NRA or the firearms industry at large, is trying to deflect the criticism with a demand for Feuer to return his salary on the grounds that he didn't earn it:

Taylor shot back that Feuer has failed as a Sacramento lawmaker. "The taxpayers' paid Feuer to do a job. He failed miserably. Return the money, Mike. You didn't earn it," Taylor said.

Kind of an ironic claim, isn't it? To begin with, Trutanich has been so ineffective at doing his job that the City Council has passed motions to try to get its own lawyers. And even beyond that, Trutanich of all people should know how effective Mike Feuer has been in office. His own law firm has undoubtedly spent time working for the NRA and other affiliates in the gun lobby to oppose Feuer's laws. His former constituents, including me, can attest to his work ethic. US Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who knows a thing or two about gun control, called him "one of California's most dynamic and effective elected officials."

So maybe Trutanich should quit his campaign and do what he knows best--representing the NRA--and let the City Attorney's office be run by someone who's competent. Who knows--maybe Trutanich will get the opportunity to represent the NRA in a suit against the City Attorney after Feuer wins? Wouldn't that be ironic.

Dante Atkins :: In Los Angeles City Attorney's race, NRA takes center stage
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