Until this year the city attorney's post was part-time and relatively low-paying.
But now things have changed. As the result of a City Charter change approved by voters last June, the victor in the upcoming municipal election will work full time--at an annual salary of $63,286.
Even so, the March 5 contest has drawn only two contenders: first-term incumbent Gordon Phillips and first-time candidate Harlan Swain.
Phillips, 54, a graduate of Hastings College of the Law, says voters should consider his on-the-job experience when they cast their ballots.
"Upcoming issues will necessitate a background in municipal law--development agreements, the land-use area, real estate contracts," said Phillips, who earned his law degree 27 years ago. "It's not just something you can go in and acquire in six months.
"I had a lot to learn (four years ago) but now the city has an investment in me because I learned it, and I learned it well," continued Phillips, a specialist in real estate law in his private practice.
Southwestern University School of Law graduate Swain, 52, says he has acquired broader experience than Phillips in the field of criminal law during his 10-year career.
Phillips, Swain said, has proved slow in issuing opinions sought by the Police Department concerning the enforcement of ordinances.
"The city attorney's office is also in charge of the prosecutor's office and that's where some problems have occurred," said Swain, who handles both criminal and civil cases in his private practice in the city's Riviera Village section.
Phillips strongly defends his record during his four-year term, citing several major issues in which he has played a major role.
He pointed to his success in the case of the scrapped Flagler Lane road-widening project--in which the county sued Redondo Beach for $1.7 million in interest on funds it had advanced for the purchase of properties. Phillips won dismissal during the pretrial stage.
His office also helped fight off an attempt by officials of the Del Amo Fashion Center to have a court halt construction of the South Bay Galleria in Redondo Beach, Phillips said.
A third accomplishment, he added, was his work in negotiating a recent City Council-approved development agreement with an office developer at the closed Aviation High School campus.
Phillips said that if he takes over the job full time, he will seek to work more closely with the Police Department. Some of that work, he added, might be done by his part-time deputy city attorney, Stuart Scudder, who earned about $25,000 in 1984.
Earnings Last Year
Phillips says he earned about $30,000 last year in the part-time post--including the annual part-time salary of $13,556 and payments of $65 an hour for legal services over and above the norm.
Despite the factionalism of Redondo city politics, Phillips said his "office has been the eye of the storm for the last four years--it hasn't participated politically . . . everybody knows we're impartial."
Phillips also cited his activity in professional organizations, which he said provide guidance on "not only what the law is but where the law is going so you're able to kind of make decisions based on what you think the law may be."
Phillips, whose private practice is in Torrance, serves as the president of the California City Attorneys Assn., as a director of the South Bay Bar Assn. and as a member of the real estate section of the California State Bar. If reelected, he would phase out his private practice, as required by the city's new regulations for a full-time attorney.
Swain is chairman of the lawyer referral service of the South Bay Bar Assn. and has served as a director of the association and as a judge pro tem of the Los Angeles Municipal Court.
If elected, Swain--who became an attorney after he was 40 by attending Southwestern at night while working full time in the pharmaceutical marketing business--said he would seek to keep the city out of costly lawsuits.
"I think that my entire practice has been, you might say, preventive-type law," he said. "I think the city attorney should give advice with that in mind--keeping the city out of lawsuits and other legal involvements."