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L.A. city attorney candidates hold spirited debate

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City attorney candidate Jack Weiss accused rival Carmen "Nuch" Trutanich of representing a "moral sinkhole" of private clients Wednesday night, while the San Pedro attorney questioned what he called Weiss' "failed record," and whether he had the legal experience for the job.

The debate, which included topics such as the city's billboard regulations and morale in the city attorney's office, was the second in less than two weeks for the candidates, who face a runoff election on May 19.

As he has throughout the runoff campaign, Weiss demanded that Trutanich disclose all of the clients he has represented over 20 years as a private attorney -- repeating the demand so frequently that audience members booed loudly at one point, shouting for him to move on.

In several heated exchanges over the issue at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, Trutanich said he was bound by a section of the California Business and Professional Code concerning ethical rules for lawyers.

"I don't want to school you on the rules of ethics, but maybe you need to be schooled," Trutanich told Weiss, a former federal prosecutor. "The privilege of disclosure belongs to a client. I can't talk about my clients to you or anyone else in this room."

When Weiss returned to the issue several minutes later -- asking which laws prevented Trutanich from talking about his clients -- a visibly irritated Trutanich read excerpts of the code section aloud.

"Let me tell you something, a first-year law student would know those answers," Trutanich said.

Over the course of the 34-minute debate, Weiss, who has made gun control a central focus as a city councilman, zeroed in on several of the gun clients represented by Trutanich's Long Beach-based firm, Trutanich-Michel LLP.

Trutanich's partner, C.D. Michel, is an attorney for the National Rifle Assn., and Weiss accused Trutanich of being allied with the gun lobby. Trutanich has said that he has never personally represented the NRA and is not a member of the organization.

Weiss, a Westside councilman, specifically singled out Trutanich's representation of a Simi Valley man, Wayne William Wright, whom he called "a one-man arsenal."

Officers from the Los Angeles Police Department seized 459 firearms from Wright's home, according to court documents provided by the Weiss campaign. Wright ultimately pleaded guilty to possession of an assault weapon and the charge was reduced to a misdemeanor, according to the documents.

"You fought with the LAPD to try to get hundreds and hundreds of his guns from his arsenal returned to him," Weiss said. "You have made an effort to try to get the people of this city to believe that you are not involved in representing the gun business, gun dealers, illegal gun criminals -- come clean and tell us the extent of your involvement."

Trutanich said after the debate that he could not comment on the case, but that Weiss' facts were wrong. In response to Weiss, he questioned why Los Angeles County District Atty. Steve Cooley and Sheriff Lee Baca, along with prominent police organizations, including the Los Angeles Police Protective League, would have given him their endorsement "if they thought I was going to walk around town with bandoleros."

"Come on Jack, get real," Trutanich said. "This is a diversion and it's to hide your record from these folks."

Over the course of the debate, Trutanich questioned Weiss' allegedly frequent absences from council chambers, and his relationships with developers: "If you're going to talk about disclosures, let's talk about developers -- the over $1 million you got from developers that have projects before you," Trutanich said.

Trutanich also scoffed at the fact that Weiss handled eight jury trials as a federal prosecutor -- saying he probably tried that many in his first month as a deputy district attorney -- and questioned the depth of Weiss' experience as a lawyer.

Weiss, in turn, made pointed jabs at Trutanich's choice of clients: "If the issue is experience, there is not one bit of experience in Mr. Trutanich's last 20 years as a lawyer that I would be proud to have on my record -- it's a moral sinkhole, Mr. Trutanich," Weiss said.

In his closing statement, Trutanich said that regardless of his clients, voters should want "a lawyer in that office."

"You don't want someone that's trying to make up a political record, that has nothing to say for himself in terms of what he did," he said.

The candidates will meet again in a debate next week.

maeve.reston@latimes.com

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