Price case poses new issue: Should criminal charges wait until after an election?

A woman at a podium with another seated behind her.
Marisa Alcaraz speaks as Imelda Padilla sits behind her during a City Council District 6 debate in Van Nuys.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)
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Good morning, and welcome to L.A. on the Record — our City Hall newsletter. It’s Julia Wick and David Zahniser, with help from Dakota Smith.

Like many Angelenos, Loraine Lundquist was surprised when criminal charges were filed last week against Councilmember Curren Price.

The astrophysicist and two-time City Council candidate had a very particular reason for her shock. She couldn’t believe the charges were issued two weeks before Tuesday’s special election for Council District 6, a contest in which one of the two candidates happens to be a high-level aide to Price.

Price‘s deputy chief of staff Marisa Alcaraz will face off against community advocate Imelda Padilla, with both hoping to fill the San Fernando Valley seat once represented by former Council President Nury Martinez.

Things went very differently back in March 2020, when Lundquist was running against Councilmember John Lee to represent a northwest Valley district.

Just six days after that election, Lee’s old boss, former Councilmember Mitchell Englander, was charged with lying to federal authorities about his dealings with a businessman who provided him $15,000 in secret cash payments and a debauched night in Las Vegas.


The case against Englander is dramatically different from the charges Price faces, and the situation was further complicated by the fact that prosecutors said Englander was accompanied on the Las Vegas trip by “City Staffer B” — a high-ranking staffer who very closely matches the profile of Lee.

(Lee has never answered questions about whether he was Staffer B. At the time of the charges, he said he was present in Vegas but was “unaware of any illegal activities” and had cooperated with the FBI. His spokesperson did not respond to an email this week once again asking whether Lee is Staffer B.)

Anyway, back to the matter at hand. Lundquist was surprised “that the D.A.’s office would make such a different choice” from the federal prosecutors who charged Englander.

That “different choice” is illustrative of the varying policies around criminal charges and potential election influence at the Department of Justice and the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.

“There is an unwritten rule [at the DOJ] that charges aren’t brought that could affect an election,” said Brandon D. Fox, a managing partner of the Los Angeles office at Jenner & Block and former chief of the criminal division of the U.S. attorney’s office for the Central District of California. Under those protocols, “no investigative action that could be public should be taken within 60 days, generally, of an election.”

That doesn’t mean that the office never acts during that period, Fox said, but charges that could affect an election “come under additional scrutiny.”


The Justice Department has a number of reasons for their election timing policy, Fox said. Prosecutors should be, and appear to be, apolitical, avoiding situations in which charging decisions could be viewed through the lens of “maybe they did this because they want it to affect an election.” Despite the presumption of innocence, charging before an election could also cause people to jump to judgment and believe someone is guilty just because they are charged.

The L.A. County district attorney’s office, by contrast, has no such policy.

“We have not adopted an official or unofficial stance concerning the timing of filing charges in a criminal case. We never want to interfere with the electoral process. Were we to intentionally delay filing charges, one side might assert that their candidate was unjustly harmed by the tardiness of the filing,” district attorney’s office communications director Tiffiny Blacknell said by email.

“Conversely, if we were to initiate charges, the opposing party might contend that the publication of charges caused them unjust harm in the election.”

Blacknell underscored the importance of impartiality to the office and said the Public Integrity Division was “not influenced by political considerations.”

The case was simply filed once the team “determined that the evidence was adequate enough to establish guilt beyond any reasonable doubt,” she said.

Price has called the charges “unwarranted” and said he is innocent.

On Thursday, an independent expenditure committee supporting Padilla filed two new attack mailers and a door hanger highlighting the charges against Price and his connection to Alcaraz. The three primary funders listed on the mailers are the California Apartment Assn., the American Beverage Assn. and the Latino Caucus of California Counties’ PAC.


“We think the voters know who Marisa really is. They understand that she’s the candidate of regular Valley working families,” Alcaraz’s political consultant Steve Barkan said Friday.

Barkan also said that Padilla’s “negative campaign” was merely an excuse to distract from her own record working for Martinez, the disgraced former City Council president.

“Ten years ago, Imelda worked for Nury for 18 months organizing community clean-ups in Panorama City,” Padilla volunteer campaign consultant Michael Trujillo said in response, going on to take a dig at the Price charges and Alcaraz’s close relationship with him throughout her campaign.

Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn. and a District 6 resident, said he thought the allegations against Price could have an effect on the race but doubted that they would move the needle for voters.

“The way elections work, most of the mail and the voter contacts have already been sent,” said Waldman, whose organization endorsed Padilla. “I’m not sure that it’ll make a big difference.”

More on the Council District 6 special election:

  • The Times breaks down some of the differences between the two candidates: Alcaraz calls herself a “policy nerd” and her supporters argue she has the City Hall relationships to deliver resources for the district. Padilla supporters say she knows “the needs of the people who are in this community” and has a record of service in the Valley.
  • And here’s The Times’ guide to Tuesday’s election.
  • As of Wednesday, nearly a week before the election, early voter turnout was already at 8%, according to data provided by Political Data Inc. Vice President Paul Mitchell. That’s slightly higher than the primary, in which early turnout was 7%. (Total turnout for the primary was 11%.)
  • Mitchell also noted a few other shifts from the primary data, including a small uptick in votes cast by people younger than 34 thus far in the runoff. Armenian American voters, who cast 14% of the votes in the primary, account for only 6% of votes cast in the runoff thus far.

State of play

POSTPONING PRICE PLAN: After more than 90 minutes of testimony on Friday, the council’s rules committee delayed for two months a decision on whether to suspend Price, a move that would have stripped the council member of his duties, including his ability to cast votes. The committee won’t consider the matter again until its next regularly scheduled meeting on Aug. 25.

‘SCRATCHING THEIR HEADS’: Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson appears to be the first at City Hall to publicly question the severity of the charges filed by the D.A. against Price, saying he and others are “scratching their heads” over the case. During an interview with Spectrum’s Alex Cohen, he went even further, saying it feels as though Black elected officials are “being hunted.”

PUBLIC RECORDS PUSHBACK: City Atty. Hydee Feldstein Soto has been lobbying Sacramento legislators to weaken the state’s public records law, asking them to draft a bill to allow a government agency to deny records requests for “images or data that may personally identify” individuals — including that agency’s employees. The move, which was prompted by the Los Angeles Police Department‘s recent release of information on thousands of its officers, would “gut” the public records act, according to an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.

OFFICIALS IN ZIP TIES: Councilmembers Hugo Soto-Martínez and Nithya Raman and Assemblymember (and council candidate) Wendy Carrillo were among scores of people arrested Thursday while participating in a protest organized by Unite Here Local 11, which represents hospitality workers in Southern California.

HISTORY NUGGET: This week’s interactions between police and politicians were much more amicable than they were way back in 2000, when then-Councilmember Jackie Goldberg criticized the LAPD and the Sheriff’s Department over its handling of demonstrators at a protest by janitors. (Goldberg was one of those arrested.) Here’s a Twitter thread on that issue.

RAIL RIDERS REJOICE: Metro celebrated the opening of the downtown regional connector over the weekend, debuting a stretch of subway that stitches together a number of long-standing rail lines — one to Pasadena, another to Santa Monica, others to Long Beach and East L.A., reducing or eliminating the number of transfers that are needed. Meanwhile, The Times’ Deb Vankin explored the art pieces that adorn the regional connector’s three new subway stations.


KEEPING THE SYSTEM SAFE: Metro took another hit on the public safety front, with a passenger stabbing a bus driver in the back in Venice on Thursday. The assault was the second stabbing of a bus driver in less than a month. That same day, the Metro board took another step toward creating its own transit police force. Mayor Karen Bass, who will take over as Metro board chair on July 1, described the vote as “a real opportunity to take a very, very bold step.”

HELPING L.A. BUSINESSES: Bass signed her fourth executive directive Thursday, creating a Los Angeles Business Steering Committee aimed at reducing burdensome processes and barriers for small businesses.

NEW ASSEMBLY BID: Legislative aide David Giron, who works for Councilmember Bob Blumenfield, launched his campaign for state Assembly this week, announcing he is running for the seat being vacated by Carrillo, whose district stretches from Los Feliz to East L.A. Giron spent several years as a legislative aide to former Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, who lost his bid for a third term in November. Blumenfield is set to appear next week at a Giron fundraiser in Boyle Heights, Giron said. Carrillo, for her part, is running for the seat currently held by Councilmember Kevin de León, who still has not disclosed whether he will seek another term.

HOSPITAL BALLOT FIGHT: L.A. voters will decide in March whether to put new limits on the pay of the city’s hospital executives, capping their total wages and other compensation at $450,000 annually. The measure is backed by SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, which contends that salaries provided to hospital executives have been excessive and out of line with the mission of providing affordable care.

MAYOR’S COMMS TEAM: Mazel tov to Bass spokesperson Zach Seidl on his promotion from “acting deputy mayor of communications until that position is filled,” per a December news release, to a new role as the mayor’s actual deputy mayor of communications. Seidl has worked for Bass for more than seven years.

And a few other new hires in the Bass comms shop: former Central City Assn. vice president of public affairs Clara Karger is now press secretary, and Ilanna Morales is the new press associate. Anaí Iberra starts July 3 as deputy director of Spanish-language communications. And Gabby Maarse was promoted to deputy press secretary earlier this year.

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Quick hits

  • Where is Inside Safe? The mayor’s signature effort to move L.A. homeless people indoors did not launch an operation in a new location this week. City leaders spent much of the week — including one lengthy closed session by the council — trying to get a handle on the growing mess involving Skid Row Housing Trust and its portfolio of dilapidated buildings, which house some of the city’s neediest residents.
  • On the docket for next week: Speaking of that controversy, the council’s Budget, Finance and Innovation Committee will meet Monday to consider making a loan to help pay for upkeep at those buildings — in what could be the first of many financial lifelines.

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