Monday, August 29, 2011

City Attorney Carmen Trutanich Told To Remove Billboards

Following the Los Angeles Dragnet's exclusive on City Attorney Carmen Trutanuch's alleged off-site billboards, an inspector from the Building and Safety Dept. has told Trutanich that his billboards must be removed.

This from the Dragnet:

The Los Angeles City Attorney's billboards on Ventura Boulevard "Should be taken down" Dennis Hathaway, president of the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight, told the Los Angeles Metropolitan News Enterprise, Friday, August 26, 2011.

Despite claims that Carmen Trutanich's off-site billboards are not "Illegal Advertisements," Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety Inspector Luke Zamparini told the Met News that Trutanich's billboards “can’t stay up forever.”

Zamparini stated that he had viewed one of Trutanich's billboards using Google Maps and believed that “it looks like a vinyl sign that’s just stuck up there like a 'Grand Opening' or 'Going Out of Business' sign occasionally used by businesses."

It's hard to imagine what Zamparini was actually looking at when he made his determination that Trutanich's billboard was a “temporary sign like that doesn’t require a permit,” because the photo we produced in our August 24, 2011 exclusive "Trutanich Billboard Blunder?" clearly depicts a permanent sign which has been in place for over 2 years.

We also used Google Maps to try to understand the rationale behind Zamparini's determination, and challenge any reader to agree that the Google Maps picture shows anything other than a permanent sign.

 The Met News also spoke to the City Attorney's Office about Trutanich's seemingly illegal off-site billboards, however, Trutanich did not respond personally, perhaps electing to hide behind a deputy who made the rather surprising statement that "the determination of the signs’ legality is not one that is made by his [the City Attorney's] office," adding that “we’ll defer to any other department or office to make that decision.”

Now that Inspector Zamparini has decided that the signs cannot remain forever, we trust that Trutanich will comply with the law and remove his billboards before Zamparini conducts a field inspection and determines the sign to be permanent and not a “temporary sign" "that doesn’t require a permit.”

As previously stated, if Zamparini determines the four Trutanich billboards to be in violation of the city's law, the fines of $1,000 a day per sign amounts to over $2.9M, which the city would most likely welcome in the midst of their budget crisis.



Friday, August 26, 2011

Possible Solution To Trutanich's Billboard Blunder

The four Carmen Trutanich City Attorney billboards on Ventura Boulevard could be replaced with signage raising no questions about whether they are lawful.

In accordance with the signed, sworn pledge made by Trutanich when he was running for City Attorney,  he could replace the current signage on the billboards with this "political" message as required by his pledge.

Just a suggestion ...


Wednesday, August 24, 2011


City Attorney Carmen Trutanich may have been caught breaking his own billboard laws, according to a report at the Los Angeles Dragnet.


He's the hero of the anti-billboard movement in Los Angeles. He has threatened to arrest city workers over billboards. His million dollar bail for an Oscars billboard garnered him the national headlines he so desperately craves, and his scorched earth policy on billboards earned him a $2M settlement check that he "bizarrely" tried to use for a political payoff to a campaign supporter.

But when it comes to his own billboards, it seems that City Attorney Carmen Trutanich has a different set of rules.
Four billboards on Ventura Blvd. currently advertise Carmen Trutanich City Attorney. Located at the Allen Realty Plaza (12522 to 12528 Ventura Blvd.), the billboards appear to be a carryover from the time during 2008-2009 when Trutanich leased his campaign headquarters at 12524 Ventura Blvd.

Two of the billboards (double sided shown above) are fairly prominent, the other double sided billboards (below) simply promote Trutanich's former campaign website:
During the time Trutanich occupied 12524 Ventura Blvd., the billboards were "On Site" advertisements. In the lingo of billboard law, they advertised goods, services or activities available at the location. The billboards stated "Carmen Trutanich FOR City Attorney," the activity taking place at 12524 Ventura Blvd.

However, when Trutanich vacated his HQ in July 2009, Trutanich's billboards became "Off Site" advertisements, meaning that they advertised something taking place away from the location of the billboard.

After Trutanich quit the location, the billboards remained. It appears, however, that they were not simply forgotten. In fact they were changed - the word "FOR" was covered up to convey the new message "Carmen Trutanich City Attorney."

Under Trutanich's own law, all billboards in Los Angeles require permits. No doubt Allen Realty Plaza had, and has, valid permits for "On Site" billboards, in other words, billboards advertising the activities of current tenants. However, there is also no doubt that no valid permit exists for any of Trutanich's "Off Site" billboards.

The reason for that is because one of Trutanich's first scorched earth policies was to ban the issuance of any new "Off Site" billboard permits. That was why he threatened to arrest Councilmember Jan Perry, AEG's Tim Leiweke, and several Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety workers if they issued permits for AEG's Regency Cinema at LA Live.

According to information provided by Dennis Hathaway's Ban Billboard Blight organization, illegal off site billboards violate Los Angeles Municipal Code (LAMC) section 91.6201.
Hathaway has links to all relevant billboard laws, and LAMC section 91.6202.2 describes the penalties for violators. If Trutanich's un-permitted off site billboards are in violation of the LAMC, the penalties are extreme, punishable by "a fine of not more than $1,000.00 or by imprisonment in the county jail for a period of not more than six months, or by both such fine and imprisonment."

Furthermore, "Each violation of the provisions of this division and each day during which such violation is committed or continues is a separate offense." Thus, each of Trutanich's four billboards could result in fines of $1,000 a day for the two years since Trutanich quit his Ventura Blvd. headquarters and moved into City Hall. That amounts to a staggering $2.92M in fines, as well as the possibility of 24 months in jail for each of the 730 days since Trutanich became City Attorney.

Of course that's a disproportionate amount of punishment for what Trutanich probably considers to be be a minor violation of his law, if a violation at all. But then again, Trutanich pursued billboard violators mercilessly regardless of the magnitude of the violation.

Regardless of whether Trutanich's billboards constitute a major or minor violation of his own law, he could nevertheless try to claim that his billboards are exempt from his law. Under LAMC section 91.6201.4 "an ideological, political or other noncommercial message" is not covered by his law.

The problem for Trutanich is that his billboards likely would not qualify for the "political" exception because they fail to display the disclosure statements required by the Fair Political Practices Commission and the City Ethics Commission, both of which require clear identification of who has paid for the "political message."

So if Trutanich's billboards are not exempt because they are not "political," could they be exempt as "ideological or noncommercial?" The problem here is that Trutanich himself considers ideological or noncommercial signs to be subject to his law.
Furthermore, Trutanich's billboards advertising his old campaign website clearly are commercial. The website now appears to be an online retailer of electronic goods, clearly a commercial enterprise.

Whichever way you look at it, Trutanich does seem to be displaying a double standard when it comes to the enforcement of billboard laws. He, above all in Los Angeles, should not be engaged in questionable billboard activity and should be setting an example of how to follow his law, not flout it.

Of course the interesting question that arises is "Who will investigate Trutanich's seemingly illegal billboards?" Clearly Trutanich's City Attorney's Office cannot investigate or prosecute Trutanich, the conflict of interest would be so obvious that even Trutanich could see it. Interestingly, for the same reason, the City Attorney's Office cannot defend Trutanich either; he would have to hire his own defense attorney just as Rocky Delgadillo did when he hired Trutanich.

What about the District Attorney's Office? Could Steve Cooley's Public Integrity Division be tasked with the investigation, or would the current open hostility between Trutanich and his former supporter Cooley, create a conflict of interest there? That would leave either the Attorney General's Office or the US Attorney's Office with jurisdiction to investigate and if necessary prosecute any violation they find. We do hope they follow Trutanich's guidelines on setting bail...

Credit: Joe Friday, Los Angeles Dragnet

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Trutanich's Schoolyard Tactics Costs City Millions in Trial Losses

As the Los Angeles City Attorney continues to blow his own trumpet about his legal skills, he has increasingly being pimping his "Porcupine Defense" as a brilliant, innovative legal strategy that has "saved the City of Los Angeles millions of dollars." It's is part of Carmen Trutanich's strategy to promote himself as a viable candidate to take over from Steve Cooley as LA's next District Attorney.

Typically, Trutanich confines his self-aggrandizing remarks to small groups of sycophantic supporters who are unable and disinclined to either challenge or question the man they see as the thug or bully who will take on the bad guys. The Porcupine Defense, like the "Misdemeanor Million Dollar Bail"is touted as one of the brilliant legal strategies that defeats those who dare to sue the City. But as this mini-documentary shows, the "Porcupine Defense" is anything but brilliant and certainly not a successful strategy.

Apart from the obvious humor in that reporter Brad Nolan has no idea what the City Attorney actually does (he is not the only one), he also doesn't know the City Attorney's name.

You can almost see Nolan glazing over as he is bombarded with a stream of often unintelligible self-promoting baseless claims. His chuckle at the explanation offered as to the Porcupine Defense, belies the relief that most have when they have been the hapless victim of Trutanich's barrage of legal mumbo-jumbo and BS; at last, something to laugh at.

However, the Porcupine Defense is no great legal strategy. It exists nowhere in the volumes of legal learning in a law school library. It is not tested in the Bar Exam, and as Trutanich failed to tell Nolan, it is based on a childhood schoolyard prank - "You may eat me, but I won't taste good going down."

This is the brilliant legal strategy that the City Attorney uses. A catch-phrase, gimmick, or campaign stunt that has so far cost the City of Los Angeles millions and millions of dollars in trial loses. Small wonder that the City Council will now hire private attorneys to defend the City.