Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Extortion for Dummies - Trutanich denies extortion accusation as ACE Program comes under fire

The Los Angeles Dragnet reports on the latest developments in the Trutanich extortion case:

Trutanich 'extortion' accusation raises community concerns about ACE Program.

Last week's hearing on accusations that Carmen Trutanich and the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office had used 'extortion' in order to settle civil lawsuits in return for dropping criminal prosecutions has been continued to November 14, 2011.

According to the Los Angeles Metropolitan News Enterprise, Judge Georgina Torres Rizk ordered the continuance so that the District Attorney's Office can take over the case in the event that she rules that Trutanich has to be disqualified for using the threat of criminal "charges and the threat of jail to obtain an advantage in a corresponding civil suit." a  Met News Staff Writer reported.

The 'extortion' accusation was originally contained in a 17-page motion to disqualify Trutanich from the prosecution of MD Graphic Installers Inc., a Los Alamitos-based outdoor advertising installation company.

It seems that MD Graphics is not alone in accusing Trutanich of 'extortion.' The Met News reported that several other defendants have now joined in the accusation. Trutanich filed a response to the 'extortion' accusation contending that "the motion is without foundation," asserting that he has done nothing wrong.

Although Trutanich has a well-documented record of using threats of jail as a 'first response' to hot button issues, this appears to be the first time that victims of Trutanich's threats have used judicial proceedings to challenge the lawfulness of his conduct.

Billboard hypocrisy
The apparent freedom Trutanich feels he has to use the treats of criminal prosecutions to obtain cash settlements in parallel civil cases may have pleased residents angered by billboard blight. Few have sympathy for illegal billboards, indeed Trutanich himself was forced to remove his own illegal billboards after his apparent hypocrisy prompted Dennis Hathaway, president of the Ban Billboard Blight Coalition, to categorically require Trutanich to remove the illegal billboards.

Trutanich's 'extortion' plans extend beyond billboards
However, when the target shifts from using jail threats with illegal billboards to other violations of the Los Angeles Municipal Code, homeowners, renters and small businesses are now beginning to fear that Trutanich will use the same modus operandi with his much-vaunted Administrative Citation Enforcement Program (known as the 'ACE Program') to bludgeon and extort them into 'paying up or going to jail' for having an over-height yard fence, untidy front yard, cracked sidewalk paving, over-sized mailbox, or a neon store sign that is too bright, too big or just too tempting to resist for an eager code enforcement officer with a quota.

In fact the list of cash-rich targets for Trutanich's ACE Program is seemingly endless, a fact that Trutanich has doubtless boasted to Coucilmembers to gain their support. Trutanich has been desperately pitching his ACE Program as a revenue stream for the city's general fund, in the hope that their eagerness to balance the books will blind them to the extortion implicit in a program that effectively makes Trutanich the judge, jury, prosecutor and treasurer in 'administrative code enforcement' actions.

It's a very real fear that grassroots community activist Stephen Box has written about on several occasions; 'Bell tolls for Nuch's ACE Program,' and 'LA's ACE Program comes with a big tip jar.' Box seems to have spotted the same problems with Trutanich's approach to law enforcement as many others; it targets those least able to afford to defend themselves, and it uses or abuses the force of law to create a source of revenue. There's a word for that; extortion.

CM Rosendahl condemns Trutanich's ACE as 'Half-Baked'
Community concerns about Trutanich's ACE Program appear to have reached the Los Angeles City Council, with Councilmember Bill Rosendahl calling Trutanich's plan 'Half baked.' Rosendahl was, perhaps, as much incensed by Trutanich delivering a hastily revised version of ACE barely two hours before a vote on ACE was scheduled, as he was outraged by the way that Trutanich had buried, disguised or omitted critical details of how Trutanich intends to administer ACE. Rosendahl drew short of accusing Trutanich of lying about ACE, but others have been more outspoken.

Others fear 'extortion' by Trutanich
The Fair Housing Coalition recently urged stong opposition to Trutanich's ACE, accusing Trutanich of lying about his ACE Program, saying that 'A tactic the City Attorney’s office is using is saying that this Ordinance will replace Criminal Prosecution. This is a lie. In fact it will be used in addition to Criminal Prosecution.' Sounds strikingly similar to the 'extortion' accusation being made by lawyers for MD Graphics, doesn't it?

Trutanich lied about ACE during talk show interview
The Fair Housing Coalition's accusation that Trutanich lied about his ACE Program is not the first time that Trutanich has spoken falsely about ACE. Trutanich's staff were forced to admit that Trutanich had lied about ACE during an interview on the Kevin James radio show. Trutanich made several claims about ACE that were patently false; perhaps the most audacious being that he had the idea for 'ACE' when he first became City Attorney and had 'shared' the ACE Program idea with the cities of San Diego and Santa Monica. Trutanich stated that they now had the program and it was 'working just fine.'

City Attorney staff admit Trutanich lied about ACE
In reality, both cities already had their own administrative citation programs in force before Trutanich became City Attorney. Indeed, Trutanich's Chief Deputy, William Carter, admitted to the Met News that when he looked into Trutanich's 'idea' he found that 'other cities were already doing it,' Carter said. That's about as close as an admission by Carter that Trutanich lied as you'll ever get, but even Carter couldn't deny provable facts, even if his boss has no problem lying on broadcast radio.

What else has Trutanich lied about?
It's a logical question. It's a reasonable question. One who has been proven to have lied on a previous occasion, can be assumed to be lying on another occasion. One who was been hypocritical about his enforcing the law when it comes to his own billboards, can be assumed to be a hypocrite when it comes to the enforcement of the law as it relates to others. It is these questions about Trutanich's veracity and his motives that should be sending shivers up the spines of all Los Angelenos.

When the City Council finally gets to vote on the ACE Program, let's hope they have these thoughts in mind and that they balance the need of the city to be able to enforce its laws, with the need to ensure that the enforcement is fair and balanced. From the evidence presented, Trutanich seems to be the least trustworthy to be entrusted with that task. The Council can easily remove the City Attorney's Office from having any role in ACE and instead use the framework of ACE to create an independent commission to administer ACE free from any undue influence that Trutanich may chose to use.

When Judge Rizk finally rules on the accusation that Trutanich used 'extortion' to obtain multi-million dollar settlements to bankroll his cash-strapped office, let's hope that sufficient competent evidence leads her to understand the very real dangers of allowing financial expediency to overrule due process and fundamentally basic concepts of fairness and transparency. The DA's Office or the Attorney General's Office can fairly take over the prosecution of these cases free from the apparent fiscal motives displayed by Trutanich, like the way he recently tried to misappropriate a $2M settlement check from another billboard case.

'Extortion for Dummies' should not be the standard by which law is enforced in the second largest city in the nation.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Extortion accusation against City Attorney Carmen Trutanich to be heard in court Thursday

Observers are likely to cram Dept 72 of the Los Angeles Superior Court at 1945 S. Hill St., in downtown Los Angeles tomorrow, Thursday October 20, 2011 to see whether City Attorney Carmen Trutanich will appear personally to answer the accusation that he used 'extortion' to obtain cash settlements to civil cases by using the threat of criminal prosecution.

Full details of the 'extortion' accusation, contained in a 17-page motion to disqualify Trutanich and his office from continued prosecution of the case against a contractor who installed billboards and super graphic signs without permits, can be found on the following blogs.

Politics Without Pity: Extortion accusation against City Attorney Trutanich to be heard in Superior Court

Los Angeles Dragnet: Trutanich accused of 'extortion' - prosecutorial misconduct alleged over threats of jail to obtain cash settlements

Response to the 'extortion' accusation from Trutanich's office has so far been limited to a statement to the Met News Enterprise from an unnamed spokesperson that 'our office believes this is a specious motion and we anticipate filing a response soon.'

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Los Angeles City Attorney Trutanich accused of 'Extortion'

The Los Angeles Dragnet is reporting that City Attorney Carmen Trutanich has been accused of 'extortion' in court papers filed on behalf of a contractor allegedly threatened with jail unless a cash settlement is offered in civil case.

"Pay up and stay out of jail" is the allegation made against Trutanich

According to the Dragnet, Trutanich has been pursuing parallel criminal and civil cases against billboard companies, and offering to drop criminal cases if large cash payments are made. That's 'extortion' according to Century City lawyers Salerno & Associates who represent one of Trutanich's alleged 'extortion' victims.

 Recently Trutanich received a $4M settlement from CBS Outdoor and then tried to divert half of the $2M to a political ally.

More at the Los Angeles Dragnet.