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ELECTIONS / 43RD ASSEMBLY DISTRICT : Wu, Rogan Take Off the Gloves as Vote Nears

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The once-polite 43rd Assembly District race turned hostile Friday with one top Republican contender charging that another allowed an accused murderer to go free while herself being accused of voting to double her salary as a school board member.

The ruckus started with a mailer Los Angeles Community College District Trustee Julia Wu sent to voters Thursday that accused her main GOP rival, James Rogan, of letting gang murderers go free when he was a prosecutor and, as a judge, of giving no jail time to a man convicted of sexual battery against a teen-age girl.

“So how many cases has Rogan plea bargained and who are the violent thugs walking the streets because of Jim Rogan?” the Wu mailer, sent to thousands of GOP-registered households, asks at one point.

The Rogan campaign quickly put together a detailed fact sheet and list of witnesses to refute the charges. “It’s an outrage, politics on the cheap,” Rogan complained.

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Meanwhile, the Rogan forces blazed away in a mailer entitled “Republicans Beware” that called Wu a “liberal” who as a college trustee had voted to double her salary and set up a slush fund.

Wu’s camp denied the charges but the candidate could not be reached for comment.

The squabbling comes at the close of what has been a tame race to elect a candidate to serve the remaining months of former Assemblyman Pat Nolan’s term. Nolan resigned Feb. 18 after pleading guilty to political racketeering charges.

If any of the seven candidates for the seat draw more than 50% of the vote, he or she will take office immediately and serve until Dec. 5, when the remainder of Nolan’s term expires. If no candidate gets a majority Tuesday, the top vote-getters from each party will face off June 28.

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Among the candidates for the seat that includes Burbank, Glendale and the Los Feliz and Silver Lake areas of Los Angeles are four Republicans, two Democrats and a Libertarian.

Wu and Rogan are viewed as the top GOP contenders in Tuesday’s election.

The Wu mailer, entitled “The Secret Files on James Rogan,” features an illustration of a sinister, gun-wielding figure in a ski mask on its cover. It quotes Rogan from a 1991 newspaper interview as saying: “I stood up and dismissed murder cases.” The quote was taken from a profile of the judge published in the Daily Journal, a legal affairs paper.

But Rogan charged that the quote was taken out of context from an interview in which he described the complex duties and ethical challenges facing prosecutors, among these being the obligation to drop charges against an accused murderer if they believe the person is innocent.

Moreover, the case to which he was referring in the interview, Rogan claimed, involved murder charges wrongly brought against a young man. Arnold Klein, the defense attorney involved in the disputed 1988 murder case, said in an interview that Rogan, a deputy district attorney at the time, acted properly to dismiss the murder charge after police determined that his client was not involved and had arrested other suspects.

“Rogan was a prince of a guy,” Klein said. “If I lived in his district, I’d vote for him.”

The Wu mailer also accused Rogan, as a judge, of letting a man who pleaded no contest to sexual battery against a 17-year-old girl get by without jail time.

But Deputy Dist. Atty. Anne Hennigan, who handled the case, said she had recommended that the man be given probation instead because he was a 93-year-old Cuban immigrant who “exercised poor judgment” by trying to kiss the girl on the cheek.

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“He was no sex offender,” Hennigan said of the defendant as she praised Rogan for showing judicial compassion in not seeking to punish the man further.

Finally, the Wu camp accused the district attorney’s office of protecting Rogan by refusing to release records of the cases he had handled as a prosecutor. Wu had requested the records but was told by the D.A.'s office that retrieving them would require the costly development of special software to access its computer files. “There’s something strange about them stonewalling us,” said Wu campaign manager Jot Condie.

Rogan sent out a mailer himself Friday that seeks to paint Wu as a liberal.

Citing newspaper accounts and the minutes of school board records, the Rogan piece accused Wu of voting in 1987 to double the salaries for all seven trustees--including Wu. The vote bumped Wu’s salary from $12,000 to $24,000 annually. The Rogan piece did not mention the numbers involved. The pay hike came at a time of budget cutbacks but was justified by Wu and other supporters because board members had not had a raise in 10 years and their workload was increasing.

Rogan also charged that Wu had supported setting up a $100,000 “slush fund” to be spent at the discretion of the seven college trustees. Critics predicted the fund would be used to finance trustees’ pet projects.

Although the fund was never established, Wu, the board’s president at the time, told reporters she intended to use her share to buy books and magazine subscriptions for the college library.

In response to Rogan’s charges, Wu’s campaign consultant, Steve Presson, would only say: “We’re going to have to give no comment on that.”


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