Garcetti appoints entertainment lawyer to Police Commission

Garcetti appoints entertainment lawyer to Police Commission
Police Commissioner Paula Madison speaks with the media in June. Mayor EricGarcetti informed the City Council in a July 24 letter that he had appointed Matthew M. Johnson toreplace Madison, whose term has expired. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

An entertainment lawyer who served on Mayor Eric Garcetti's transition team is expected to join the Los Angeles Police Commission in the coming weeks, replacing another commissioner whose term has expired.

Garcetti informed the City Council in a July 24 letter that he had appointed Matthew M. Johnson to the Police Commission, taking the seat of retired media executive Paula Madison, who served as the commission's vice president since her appointment in 2013.


Garcetti's appointment will go before the city's Public Safety Commission and then the City Council for approval.

"Based on his talent, experience and leadership in the community, we have every confidence that Matt will be an excellent police commissioner," said Connie Llanos, a mayoral spokeswoman. "We appreciate Paula's superb service on the L.A. Police Commission and will continue to seek her advice on law enforcement and other civic issues."

Madison was one of four new commissioners Garcetti appointed after he took office in 2013. She told The Times on Thursday that it was actually Johnson, a personal friend, who introduced her to the mayor, who was looking for a police commissioner after Johnson declined because of work responsibilities.

"I think that the work of the Police Commission is such an important role that I was willing to suspend some of the other things that I was doing in my business life to do that," she said. "But now that Matt is free and Matt can serve on the commission, then I think it's worked out well for everybody."

The Police Commission serves as the civilian oversight of the Los Angeles Police Department, setting policies, approving the budget and overseeing operations. Commissioners also deliberate each week on police shootings and other uses of force, determining whether an officer's actions during such incidents were appropriate.

"Serving as a police commissioner is, without question, one of the most difficult professional jobs that I've had, and it is because these are truly circumstances that deal with life and death," Madison said.

Johnson will join the board amid heightened scrutiny of police departments nationwide. A series of high-profile police killings, particularly those of black men, generated a national debate over how officers use force and interact with the community.

Steve Soboroff, the president of the commission, said he would miss the media knowledge and "understanding of people" Madison brought to the board, but also looked forward to working with Johnson.

"I've talked to him, I know of him and I think he's just going to be terrific," Soboroff said. "I said, 'Matt, you are about to get into something really important at a really important time.'"

Johnson could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Johnson is a managing partner at the high-profile law firm Ziffren Brittenham and has represented clients including Oprah Winfrey, Forest Whitaker and Sacha Baron Cohen, according to a biography submitted to the City Council in 2013. Johnson has long worked with The Boys and Girls Club both locally and nationally, as well as other civic organizations such as the Los Angeles Urban League.

Johnson was also a key supporter of Garcetti during his mayoral campaign. He and his wife helped coordinate several fundraisers for Garcetti, including one at their Sherman Oaks home where guests were encouraged to donate anywhere between $250 and $1,000.

After Garcetti was elected mayor, Johnson was part of his six-person transition team.


In 2013, Garcetti appointed Johnson to the Board of Airport Commissioners, a seat he still holds. In an Aug. 13 letter about the appointment that was signed by Garcetti, "Mr. Johnson" was scratched out and replaced with "Matt."

A handwritten note was added at the end: "Steer us to greatness again, my friend!"

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