The two candidates vying to replace outgoing Los Angeles City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo clashed Wednesday night in another debate laced with personal attacks over their respective records on ethics, their legal clients and contributors to their campaigns.
For months, Westside Councilman Jack Weiss has lambasted San Pedro attorney Carmen “Nuch” Trutanich for representing private clients accused of environmental crimes and has argued that those cases could lead to a wave of conflict issues for the city attorney’s office if Trutanich wins the runoff election.
But Trutanich tried to turn that guilt-by-association argument back on his rival at the Westside Jewish Community Center, saying voters should view Weiss’ contributions from developers, lobbyists and lawyers who do business with the city as far more troubling.
The hourlong forum sponsored by the Los Angeles League of Conservation Voters ranged across topics from gang injunctions to the city’s dwindling water resources. But both candidates repeatedly steered the discussion back to their chief criticisms of each other. Trutanich drilled into the complaints of some of Weiss’ constituents that he has too often been absent from council chambers and too quick to side with developers.
Weiss, a former federal prosecutor who also served as chairman of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, noted that Trutanich’s clients include a boat captain who admitted shooting at sea lions, and Warren E&P;, which is facing eight criminal counts related to 2007 oil spills from its Wilmington refinery operations. Throughout the debate, Weiss read aloud from a California Lawyer article that his opponent co-wrote on defending environmental crimes and mocked Trutanich’s statements that he helped his clients comply with environmental laws.
“I am not going to coddle environmental criminals,” Weiss said. “I will throw the book at you the first time you break an environmental law in this city.”
Dismissing Trutanich’s work as an environmental prosecutor in the district attorney’s office in the 1980s -- which he left to go into private practice -- Weiss charged that “putting Mr. Trutanich in charge of enforcing our environmental laws is like putting a lawyer from Philip Morris in charge of enforcing our health laws.”
“I’ve put environmental polluters in jail; he’s put them on his contribution list,” said Trutanich, whose campaign cited contributions to Weiss from ChevronTexaco and from an employee of a Sherman Oaks metal company that was fined for hazardous waste violations.
When Weiss said he had never represented development interests as a lawyer and asked his opponent if he could say the same, Trutanich responded: “That’s because you’ve never been a lawyer.”
“Was that a yes or no, you’ve never represented development interests?” Weiss asked.
“I don’t think I ever have represented a developer,” Trutanich replied. “But I know that you have -- in the council chamber.”
The runoff is May 19.