D.A.'s Daughter Makes Own Way

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Dana Garcetti--former pastry chef and math teacher and now novice deputy district attorney--has a confession to make. There have been moments when it hasn't been all that easy being the boss' daughter, but she doesn't take it personally.

She remembers the time she was cornered in a bathroom at the downtown Criminal Courts Building and given some unsolicited advice. "Watch your back," she was told, because people were talking about her.

There was also her less than enthusiastic reception last August at the downtown branch of the Los Angeles Municipal Court after people learned that her father, Gil Garcetti, is the Los Angeles County district attorney.

But the 27-year-old is not complaining. In November, she took on her latest assignment, in Inglewood Municipal Court, as she always has done--with enthusiasm and hard work.

"When an office is told I'm coming to work, I think everybody goes, 'Oh, great. Now we're going to have to act differently,' " she said with a laugh.

But they soon learn she is not someone to fear.

"Quite frankly, the fact that she is Gil Garcetti's daughter has not had any effect," said Phil Rabichow, who is in charge of deputy district attorneys working in Inglewood Municipal Court and who is Dana's supervisor. "I was told that she had a good reputation, that she was bright and that she was hard-working. I was thrilled to have someone like that."

Dana Garcetti said she expects no favors. Her cramped, modest office with its standard-issue bookshelves and desks is shared with two other deputy district attorneys. The floor is covered with plain white tiles. The walls are scuffed. There is barely room to move about. Two pairs of high heels and one pair of tennis shoes are tucked under her desk.

For a while, the only thing that distinguished her work space was a large portrait of her father, encased in an ornately gilded wood frame. It was a gift to the district attorney from a local cultural organization.

When he couldn't decide where to hang it, his daughter helped. She whisked it away to her office where her office mates were planning to set up a mock shrine to her father, who was elected in November to a second term after a close race with Deputy Dist. Atty. John Lynch.

After everyone started making fun of the portrait, she decided it belonged back in her parents' Brentwood home, where she is living while her recently purchased Santa Monica house is being remodeled.

Not that there isn't already a picture or two of her father in the Inglewood Municipal Court building. Every morning, she walks by a photo of him when she strolls past a front counter to go to her office.

The resemblance between father and daughter is obvious. They have the same eyes and cheekbones. The same smile. And the same hard-working attitude that lifted Gil Garcetti from a modest South-Central Los Angeles neighborhood to his powerful position.

His father, a barber, and his mother, who worked in a meatpacking plant, were Mexican immigrants who had little money to spare for higher education.

So he forged his own career path. Garcetti attended Washington High School, where he was quarterback of the high school football team and president of the student body. On an academic scholarship, he attended USC where he met his wife, Sukey, the daughter of a well-to-do Los Angeles clothing manufacturer.

After graduating from UCLA Law School, he began working for the district attorney's office in 1968.

Dana Garcetti's childhood was far different from that of her father. She grew up in the tony neighborhoods of Encino and Brentwood. She attended Westlake School for Girls, a private school in Bel-Air now called Harvard-Westlake, where she was on the soccer and basketball teams.

Her college education was at Brown University, an Ivy League school in Rhode Island, where she earned a bachelor's degree in medical anthropology that included a year of study in Thailand and four months in Indonesia. She speaks six languages.

Unlike her father, Dana wasn't quite sure what she wanted to do with her professional life. Her parents never nudged her in any particular direction. At first she wanted to be an emergency room doctor, but the years in medical school and working as an intern seemed too long.

After college, she returned to Los Angeles, taking a two-year break to work as a pastry chef at La Brea Bakery, and later to teach calculus to underprivileged elementary school students in Oakland.

When her parents suggested she start thinking seriously about her future, she took the law school entrance exam and scored in the 98th percentile. She was a natural. "I said, 'Hmm, I guess I'm going to law school,' " she recalled. With a partial educational scholarship, Dana Garcetti graduated from Duke University in 1995 with a law degree and a master's degree in legal anthropology.

A summer as a clerk in a downtown Los Angeles law office taught her she didn't want to practice civil law. Years of hearing stories about the district attorney's office made her gravitate toward the same public service that had lured her father.

"My father always talked about the fact that when he graduated from law school and wanted to join the public defender's office, Harland Braun [a well-known criminal lawyer who worked for the district attorney's office many years ago] recruited him by saying that to make a difference the real power was in the district attorney's office," Dana Garcetti said. "And that appealed to his sense of justice. Needless to say, I never considered working for the public defender."

Naturally, there are suggestions that Garcetti got her $42,000-a-year job because her father is the boss. But Assistant Dist. Atty. Mike Tranbarger, in charge of hiring deputy district attorneys, said the boss' daughter got no special treatment. She was one of 200 people who applied for 10 openings and went through the same process.

"We are looking for the best criminal prosecutors we can find," Tranbarger said. "We look for someone who demonstrates an interest in public law and has an understanding of our mission."

Tranbarger said Dana Garcetti had those qualities plus paid experience as a law clerk at Inglewood Juvenile Court and East Los Angeles Municipal Court.

Gil Garcetti, 55, said he warned his daughter about the consequences of working in the district attorney's office. "I told her if you do come on, it will be difficult for you. You will have a magnifying glass on you at all times," he said. "I knew she could handle it. Nevertheless, it is a burden."

Her bosses are very complimentary. David Ross, who was deputy district attorney in charge of the Metropolitan branch of the Los Angeles Municipal Court when Dana Garcetti began working there last summer, said there was no special treatment of her.

"We didn't do double back flips or jump through hoops. We heard she was a very nice woman and competent," Ross said. "I was impressed with her."

Peggy Beckstrand, a deputy district attorney in Torrance and a former supervisor in Inglewood Juvenile Court where Dana worked, says the younger Garcetti is talented, hard-working and, above all, a nice person. Garcetti always took extra steps to help out, arriving early and even answering the phones. "I was thrilled when Dana got hired," Beckstrand said. "After working with her, I saw Gil one day and said, 'Dana is great. She obviously doesn't take after you.' "

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
69°