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THREE VIE TO BE CITY ATTORNEY CAMPAIGN: CITY COUNCILMAN JACK WEISS, TWO CHALLENGERS PLEDGE TO REFORM L.A. OFFICE.

Byline: Rick Orlov

Staff Writer

It is the "other" race on the ballot next March.

While most of next year's city election attention is expected to surround Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's bid to retain his post, three candidates are vying for the open city attorney's seat created as term limits force out Rocky Delgadillo from a job that will pay $214,526 a year.

All of the candidates are promising to reform an office that has been viewed as charting a course independent from the mayor and City Council -- to the point that the mayor has hired his own legal adviser and the council has studied hiring its own attorney.

"This was an opportunity I didn't feel I could pass up," said Councilman Jack Weiss, who could have sought a third term to his 5th District seat in the south San Fernando Valley and West Los Angeles.

"The City Attorney's Office is such an important office for the people of the city and you can make such an impact on protecting and improving the quality of life and in fighting crime. I believe my experience as a federal prosecutor and my eight years as a council member have put me in the position to make that office more effective."

Weiss draws criticism

Weiss, 43, would normally be considered the favorite candidate in the race because of his eight years on the City Council, support from Villaraigosa and a war chest of more than $1.1 million.

But he is facing a stronger-than-expected challenge from two others due, in part, to perceptions that he is vulnerable after residents of his district launched a recall drive.

To avoid a runoff in May, a candidate must get a majority of votes in the March 3 primary.

During his years on the council, Weiss has focused on public-safety issues. But he has often been criticized for failing to take care of issues affecting his district -- particularly limiting growth and traffic impacts.

During regular City Council meetings, Weiss also is not seen as one of the leaders, often checking in at the start and then working in a side room or back area.

Weiss says the recall drive -- which ultimately was unsuccessful -- did not influence his decision to vacate his council seat. But his opponents believe the drive has created a vulnerability that will work in their favor.

Among them is Carmen Trutanich, 57, of Harbor City, a private attorney who has experience in the county District Attorney's Office and has captured some top endorsements including those of District Attorney Steve Cooley, Sheriff Lee Baca and former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg.

Trutanich also has tapped into his ties with USC -- where he went to undergraduate and law school and represents many USC students and alumni -- to raise $439,000, according to the most recent campaign reports.

The third candidate is Michael Amerian, 34, of Toluca Lake, a deputy city attorney for five years who said he saw the opportunity to try to advance his public-service career.

"My father was a judge and I came to the City Attorney's Office thinking about achieving that someday," Amerian said. "But when I got here, I saw how important this job can be and what we can do as the public's lawyer."

Amerian has done surprisingly well for a newcomer to the political scene and reported raising $183,000 during the first reporting period. He said he believes he will be able to raise more than $700,000, which would allow him to wage a competitive race.

To be able to compete, Amerian said, he will be taking a leave of absence before the March 3 primary election.

Attention on Trutanich

Most attention, however, has been on Trutanich, who has a private law firm based in Long Beach. Among his clients is the National Rifle Association.

Earlier this month, in his capacity as the group's attorney, he asked for detailed communications on a number of proposals Weiss has made to try to control ammunition sales and gun ownership.

"The NRA is one of my clients," Trutanich said. "My policy is that people have a right to have a gun in their homes. But that is where it stops. If you are in a prohibited class (of not being able to possess a weapon), I can assure you that you will go to jail.

"My position is we don't need more laws to control guns. We have the laws. We just have to enforce them."

Trutanich grew up in San Pedro, where his father worked in the Starkist factory and later at the Terminal Island Tuna Packaging Plant.

After graduating from USC with an MBA, Trutanich appeared destined to work in the same industry as a procurement manager for Starkist, until he decided to go to law school.

After a couple of years in private practice, he went to work for the District Attorney's Office, working first in its anti-gang unit and then dealing with environmental crimes. He left in 1988.

Trutanich said he had no plans to run for any elected office until he was approached by Cooley, who encouraged him to run for city attorney and offered his help.

"It was an evolution," Trutanich said. "I looked at it and, quite frankly, what I think the office needs is some professionalism and a fresh look by a lawyer who knows how to run an office.

"I know it's a tough job, but it's an opportunity to leave a legacy with a city that's been good to me and change the views of how the office is run."

Amerian also believes he can provide the type of leadership needed.

"The one thing I can say that these other two can't is I know the office from the inside," Amerian said. "I am convinced the next city attorney should be someone who works within the office and has an understanding of what we do and has the ideas how to make the place work better and more efficiently for the people of Los Angeles."

Decentralizing functions

Amerian said he would try to decentralize many of the office's functions, while allowing attorneys to maintain control of cases from start to finish.

Amerian, Trutanich and Weiss all said the one program started by Delgadillo they would continue is neighborhood prosecutors, who are assigned to areas to work with the police and the community to deal with quality-of-life issues.

And all said they would look at broadening the program to give neighborhood prosecutors more influence in a variety of cases.

Amerian said he is motivated by his experience in the City Attorney's Office as well as by his late father, who served as a judge.

Amerian, whose mother is executive assistant to council President Eric Garcetti, graduated from Georgetown University and the USC School of Law.

Trutanich and Amerian have created Web sites, www.carmentrutanich.com and www.michaelamerian.com, to get information to the public. Weiss aides said a site is under construction.

rick.orlov@dailynews.com

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 15, 2008
Words:1165
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