City Attorney Applicant Pool Cut to 4 : Politics: The City Council is torn between basing its selection on the candidates’ experience or political leanings.


A battle is being waged behind closed doors over whether to hire an experienced municipal attorney for Santa Monica or an ideological soul mate for the liberal council majority.

The Times has learned that a list of five candidates was narrowed to four after a sometimes rancorous daylong City Council session Saturday at which efforts were made to sneak applicants into City Hall to avoid press scrutiny.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. May 16, 1993 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday May 16, 1993 Home Edition Westside Part J Page 3 Column 3 Zones Desk 2 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
City attorney--Due to an editing error, a story in Thursday’s Westside section incorrectly stated that Joseph Lawrence had been lobbying for the Santa Monica city attorney’s office since his boss, Robert Myers, was fired last September. It should have said Lawrence has been running the office.

Citing confidentiality requirements, none of the seven council members would discuss their meeting or disclose the names of the applicants. However, sources familiar with the proceedings described a basic disagreement framed early on by council members Asha Greenberg and Ken Genser.


Greenberg, a gang and drug prosecutor in Los Angeles, argued in favor of hiring an attorney with a strong background in municipal law, while Genser said his priority was finding someone who shares his values.

Five candidates met with the council Saturday and Tuesday night. The group had been culled earlier from a larger group of 12 selected by an executive-search firm hired by the council.

The applicants refused to be interviewed, but through a combination of public records and sources, the three men and two women have been identified as: Joseph Lawrence, the acting Santa Monica city attorney; Matthew St. George and Ruth Ebner, who are deputy city attorneys for Los Angeles; and two attorneys in private practice, William Rothbard and Marcia Scully.

Ebner, a Santa Monica resident with more than a decade of pertinent criminal, civil and land-use experience, was dropped from contention after telling the council she was eager to help them clean up the city parks, sources said. Ebner also mentioned in her interview that she had won a lawsuit against the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued Los Angeles over its teen curfew law.

Parks and curfews might be motherhood-and-apple-pie issues in most cities, but not Santa Monica. The parks have for several years been the central battleground in the contentious fight over policies toward the city’s large homeless population--a fight that led to the firing last September of City Atty. Robert M. Myers, creating the vacancy the council is now trying to fill.

A teen curfew is also touchy. Rejecting the pleas of Police Chief James T. Butts, the City Council last year refused to enact a teen curfew after Myers said it would violate the constitutional rights of teen-agers.


Sources said Rothbard, who has been active in Democratic Party politics and is allied with Assemblyman Terry B. Friedman (D-Brentwood), won favor in a taped interview by saying he viewed himself as an attorney for the underdog. Rothbard, who according to property records lives in a $860,000 Pacific Palisades home, has specialized in antitrust law and has no municipal experience.

A 1976 graduate of Hastings College of Law in San Francisco, Rothbard, 42, has been associated with the high-powered Westside firm of Irell & Manella and served on the staff of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Anti-Trust. He now works for a Seattle-based national firm, Davis, Wright and Tremaine.

Rothbard was appointed to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy board of directors by Assembly Speaker Willie Brown in 1991. He is the president of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights and is active in Bet Tzedek, a Jewish legal aid organization that Friedman used to head.

Friedman, who did not return repeated calls seeking comment, is believed to be lobbying for Rothbard. In winning reelection in November, Friedman allied himself with the liberal council majority in Santa Monica.

Finalist St. George, 51, is assistant supervisor in the Los Angeles city attorney’s 40-lawyer branch office in West Los Angeles. A graduate of Loyola Law School and a deputy city attorney since 1985, he has criminal law and managerial experience, but no background in civil law. He is active in numerous gay rights organizations, including Lawyers for Human Rights.

Scully, 44, is an Orange County attorney in private practice with experience in both criminal and civil municipal law. She graduated from Loyola Law School in 1977 and worked as an assistant city attorney in Inglewood for five years.


Lawrence, 42, a 1976 graduate of New York University, has been with the Santa Monica city attorney’s office since 1986. He previously taught law at Loyola.

He and Rothbard would appear to have the inside track in a highly fluid situation in which some council members are said to favor keeping the search open to recruit more applicants. The next round of interviews is scheduled for May 27.

Lawrence has been lobbying for the Santa Monica city attorney’s office since Myers was fired, ostensibly for refusing to write laws he said were unconstitutional and discriminated against the homeless.

In one case, Myers has already been proved right. After he refused the council’s request to write an ordinance to require permits for large groups who want to use the parks, the council hired an outside attorney to write the law. Last month, a federal judge ruled that the law was unconstitutional.

As the author of the city’s tough rent control law and a champion of civil liberties, Myers was very much an ideological soul mate to the council majority. He also was widely regarded for his legal prowess. Lawrence has, for the most part, followed Myers’ prosecution policies--including not filing charges against homeless people who appear to be defying a city law that essentially prohibits camping in city parks.

Lawrence’s hiring could be expected to ignite howls of protest from those who sought Myers’ ouster last year. Community activist Jean Sedillos, for one, refers to Myers and Lawrence as “Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum.” It would also affirm what Myers himself has insisted--that he was fired two months before the November council elections for purely political reasons.


Genser and Mayor Judy Abdo went on to win new four-year terms on the council after conducting campaigns that called attention to their votes to fire Myers.

Councilman Paul Rosenstein was also elected on the renters’ rights slate, which has a 5-2 majority on the panel and will call the shots on the city attorney selection.

The other new council member, Greenberg, was elected on a public safety slate. But she and Councilman Robert T. Holbrook, who holds similar views, have been silenced by the confidential hiring process. Holbrook refused all comment.

Greenberg would only go so far as to provide a series of rhetorical questions she posed in a column she writes for The Good Life, a local weekly paper.

“Will council members who pay lip service to public safety put their money where their mouth is?” Greenberg asked. “Will council members who emphasize the importance of diversity follow their own affirmative action guidelines? Or will ideological conformity be given preference over qualifications and relevant experience? The public will soon find out.”