With the race for district attorney heating up, Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich, the obvious front-runner, recently listed key supporters who endorse him, including the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Assn., the Los Angeles School Police Assn. and the National Assn. of Prosecuting Attorneys.
The problem: It was news to them.
Officials with the three law enforcement groups told The Times last week that they were surprised to learn that Trutanich has touted them as endorsers, saying their organizations have yet to formally decide whom, if anyone, to back, in this year's race to become the county's top prosecutor.
"Pretty shady" and "troubling" is how Marshall McClain, president of the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Assn., described the claim. He said his union's board of directors backed Trutanich three years ago in his bid for city attorney but has not interviewed him for the upcoming election.
"The question is, how did it happen?" McClain said. "I like to hope and think that … it is a simple error and not some kind of an endgame or nefarious plan or plot."
Trutanich's senior political advisor, John Shallman, issued a statement describing the error as a miscommunication. The list of endorsements included organizations and people who backed Trutanich's successful 2009 city election campaign, the statement said. But the list did not mention some of Trutanich's key supporters in that election, including the union that represents Los Angeles Police Department officers, and does include at least one organization that did not endorse him in 2009.
When asked to explain the discrepancies, another political advisor released an amended statement to add that Trutanich "made a mistake by listing some organizations who have not yet made an endorsement in the race."
In a subsequent phone call, Shallman said the endorsement list was put together in error by volunteer supporters of Trutanich. The list was not intended for the public and was not adequately vetted by Trutanich's political advisors, Shallman said.
"It was rushed. The wrong people were involved in putting it together, and those people won't be involved again," he said. "We have apologized for the mistakes."
The controversy is the latest hiccup for Trutanich, who is far outpacing the declared candidates in fundraising but insists that he has yet to decide whether to join the race and remains focused on his job at the city.
Last year, he drew fire for setting up an exploratory committee to consider a run for district attorney after pledging during the 2009 city attorney's race not to seek another political office until he had served two full terms. Trutanich has said that he did not know at the time that Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley would retire and that he has been inundated with supporters urging him to run.
McClain said Trutanich called him directly about a week ago to inform him that his union's name had been mistakenly included in the list of endorsements. The union head said he appreciated the mea culpa but believed the association's directors might be less forgiving when they decide whom to endorse on behalf of the 425 police officers and firefighters they represent.
"Our board has a long memory," he said. "They're not too happy with this."
The endorsement list was part of a questionnaire filled out before Trutanich met with the board of directors for the union that represents L.A. County prosecutors on Jan. 24 as part of back-to-back interviews with district attorney candidates. Even though Trutanich has yet to make a formal decision to enter the race, Shallman said, he took part in the interview "out of respect" for the union.
About a week ago, a representative of Trutanich contacted an executive in the umbrella labor group that the prosecutors' union belongs to and notified him about the error.
Trutanich collected nearly $1 million in donations last year, amassing a campaign war chest that dwarfs those of the declared candidates. The endorsement list was included in a document that gives every indication he is running, naming a fundraising consultant, a pollster and a campaign manager and saying he expects to raise an additional $1.5 million before the primary.
In the document, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, Trutanich gives a sales pitch for what he would accomplish as district attorney, saying he would "do everything in my power to reduce crime" and raise morale among deputy district attorneys.
James Ream, the president of the Los Angeles School Police Assn., downplayed the endorsement error, saying his organization has always supported Trutanich and that he had told the city attorney it would probably do so again.
"We are not upset at this incident, but did need to ensure correctness," Ream said in an email.
On the Trutanich endorsement list, the union's president was incorrectly identified as Jim Freeman. Freeman is a political consultant who has worked for the school police union but was hired last year by the campaign of one of Trutanich's rivals, Mario Trujillo, who runs the district attorney's Bellflower office.
"This obviously was a mistake," Freeman said. "I've been doing campaigns for many, many years, and ... I can tell you it's happened to the best of us."
The Times could find no record of another organization on the endorsement list, the National Assn. of Prosecuting Attorneys, but did find the Assn. of Prosecuting Attorneys. Trutanich sits on the Washington, D.C.-based group's board of directors.
The organization's chief executive, David LaBahn, said the association was created in 2009 and did not endorse Trutanich for city attorney. He said he is unsure whether the association will make an endorsement in the district attorney's race given Trutanich's position on the board. Though the group has not given its official backing, its chief operating officer, Steven Jansen, said he had told Trutanich's political staff he would give his own support.
"It's a personal endorsement from me," Jansen said.