State Bar of California seeks to discipline ex-L.A. city attorney Carmen Trutanich

The State Bar of California is seeking to discipline former Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich, claiming that as a county prosecutor he suppressed important evidence and allowed a witness to give false testimony during a 1985 murder case.

Trutanich could face disbarment, suspension and other sanctions, depending on what the State Bar Court recommends.

The move toward disciplinary action comes less than a year after a federal judge threw out the 1985 case’s murder conviction and death sentence, ruling that Trutanich’s "deeply troubling" behavior during that case had deprived Barry Williams, a South L.A. gang member, of a fair trial.

Trutanich, then a member of the hardcore gang unit of the L.A. County district attorney's office, successfully sought the death penalty against Williams, who was accused of shooting and killing Jerome Dunn in 1982. Trutanich often used the case in describing his record on crime as he campaigned for elected office. 

But the disciplinary notice claims that during the trial, Trutanich knowingly or negligently failed to provide defense attorneys with the contact information and identity of a second eyewitness to the crime.

An eyewitness, Patricia Lewis, had testified that she saw Williams commit the murder from the passenger seat of a station wagon driven by a second eyewitness she named as “Jean Rivers.”

The true identity of “Jean Rivers” was actually Arlean McKay. Lewis lied about her name because McKay was her friend and didn’t want to be involved. 

But Trutanich’s handwritten notes about the case had both names listed for the second eyewitness — and in one place, the two names were next to each other in quotation marks, according to the federal judge’s ruling. Trutanich also did not try to correct the name during Lewis’ testimony.

Trutanich "knew, or was grossly negligent in not knowing, that `Jean Rivers’’ true name was Arlene McKay," the State Bar wrote in the disciplinary notice, adding that his actions demonstrated "moral turpitude, dishonesty or corruption." 

Trutanich has repeatedly denied that he misled the jury or suppressed evidence during the case. During a 2015 hearing, he told the federal judge that he never knew the second eyewitness’ real name and claimed he had turned over both names to defense attorneys. 

"I'm sure as hell not going to my grave and meeting my maker having hid information in a death penalty case," Trutanich told The Times last year. "Never happened. Never happened. No. Not me."

Calls and emails to his office were not returned Wednesday evening. 

Williams is still in state prison serving a sentence of 34 years to life for a separate murder conviction. Trutanich also prosecuted that case. 

A State Bar Court hearing is scheduled for March 13 in Los Angeles.

The California Supreme Court will review the State Bar Court’s recommendations for Trutanich’s punishment and must give ultimate approval. Trutanich also may appeal the State Bar’s recommendations to a review panel.

 

frank.shyong@latimes.com

Twitter: @frankshyong

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