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Cooley Surprises Garcetti With Incumbent’s Own Ad

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Challenger Steve Cooley ambushed incumbent Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti on radio Thursday with a transcript of Garcetti’s own, not-ready-for-prime time ad attacking Cooley as an untrustworthy Republican plea-bargainer.

“This guy’s a smear artist,” Cooley said after reading the ad--twice--during a hastily scheduled debate on radio station KPFK-FM 90.7. “He doesn’t tell the truth.”

Garcetti defended the commercial, which his campaign had been keeping under wraps, saying the charges in it are “all documented” and offering to provide the paperwork to prove it.

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The commercial twice refers to the challenger as “Republican Steve Cooley,” and accuses him of supporting plea bargains, “even for chronic drunk drivers, child abusers and drug dealers.”

It says the district attorney’s San Fernando branch office under Cooley plea-bargained a higher percentage of cases under California’s three-strikes law than any other office, and that when Cooley was in charge of the Antelope Valley office, “rates of child abuse, juvenile crime, murder and gang violence skyrocketed.”

After the radio debate, Cooley called the ad “desperate, partisan pandering,” but conceded that there was some truth to it.

He said it was conceivable that prosecutors had reached plea bargains in the cases Garcetti cited, because such settlements are fairly routine throughout the district attorney’s office.

“There are case settlements in every category of crime,” he said.

He agreed that the crime rate rose when he was in the Antelope Valley, but attributed that to the fact that the region was the fastest growing in California at the time.

“Of course, when you have more people, you’re going to have more crime,” he said.

He agreed that the San Fernando branch had a high rate of plea bargains in three-strikes cases, though he denied that it was the highest in the county. A Los Angeles Times investigation in 1996 found that it was, in fact, the highest rate among 13 branches studied.

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Garcetti campaign manager Erik Nasarenko attacked Cooley’s campaign for revealing the ads, which he said had never been broadcast. Cooley campaign manager John Shallman said they were shown on a cable television station and recorded by a Cooley supporter.

Nasarenko defended the commercials, saying: “These ads are both informative and educational, and they help define and delineate the record of our opponent.”

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