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Carmen Trutanich: "They're Frightened That I'm Strong"

Hillel Aron |
October 13, 2010 | 11:41 a.m. PDT


Courtesy of the City Attorney's website
Courtesy of the City Attorney's website
I spoke to Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich last week in his L.A. City Hall office about a number of topics. He can be a bit intimidating--at times it felt like he was interviewing me. Halfway through our conversation, his son Nicholas called. Nicholas is an assistant U.S. Attorney who, before the end of the year, will ship out to Iraq.

There’s a wooden sign on one of his bookshelves that reads, “The strong do as they will, the weak do as they must.” That pretty much describes how he sees himself--strong, effective and someone who does what he will. 

I read something about you recently describing you as an outsider in City Hall. Do you see yourself that way?

Well… I think that in the group of insiders…I’m on the outside. 

And how do you experience that?

Look, it's hard to say that once you’re elected and you’re working at City Hall in this closed environment that you’re an outsider, I mean… I guess if you were unsure of your ability, you could be somewhat intimidated by the structure and the size of all the "insiders."

I talked to a couple of medical marijuana dispensary owners who are upset that what date they filed the paperwork affects if they qualified or not.

You know what, I don’t make the rules. I’m the enforcer. We don’t do policy. I think I weighed in on that provision, I didn’t think it was necessary. The issue is…you can’t sell it. A dispensary is not the law. A collective is the law. You have to be a primary health giver or a group of users growing your own and sharing the cost. And that’s not what’s happening. You have the retail model going on, and people are getting rich. How much does it cost to grow marijuana?

I’ve never tried it. 

Have you ever grown tomatoes?

I’ve never grown anything. 

Is it any harder to grow tomatoes than it is marijuana?

Probably a little harder, cause don’t they grow it inside?

Can’t you grow it outside? It’s called a weed. So the cost of growing it is minimal. A friend of mine was telling me that an eighth of an ounce is selling for like $270. I mean, come on. 

It sounds to me like you don’t think there should be any dispensaries. 

You’re right. Dispensaries are illegal under the law. Collectives are legal. I don’t think there should be any bank robbers either. 

What’s so bad about supergraphics?

Suppose you wanted to be a gardener. What’s the first thing you’d do?

Do you want me to be a gardener? Because I’m starting to consider it.

You’d have to get a license. You’d have to get a permit. Ninety percent of them didn’t have permits to them up there. You gotta make sure that it’s secure enough so it doesn’t blow off in a wind storm. A supergraphic weighs about 3 pounds per square foot. So if you’ve got a 10,000 square foot supergraphic, how much does that thing weigh?

I was told there would be no math.

You were told wrong. It’s very heavy, 30,000 pounds. That’s 15 tons. Hanging from the side of a wall. If one of those things should come loose, it could kill somebody. Yet they go up without any kind of inspection. 

You’re trying to get your own grand jury.

Well I wouldn’t say I’m trying to get my own grand jury. I’m trying to authorize the state to form grand juries for misdemeanor crimes. Since 1994-95, very few felony crimes have been enacted. Most of the crimes passed by the Legislature in the last 10 to 15 years have been misdemeanors. Some very, very, very complicated crimes. Mortgage fraud is a wobbler. How many mortgage fraud criminal prosecutions have you seen in the last five years?

Uh… I don't really keep track...

Not many. Cause they’re misdemeanors, and they’re very complicated. We don’t have a bureau of investigation, we have lawyers. So we can either hire investigators to investigate mortgage fraud allegations or we can send a letter out from a grand jury saying send us these documents. The most efficient way is the letter. Patient dumping. How many of those hospitals or any of those individuals in those hospitals have ever been prosecuted for any of those acts?

I’m guessing not many.

If you guessed zero, you’d be right. Because we don’t have the ability to prove who was responsible. And so we could send a subpoena to the corporation, ask them, give me all your records on this. I can bring people in front of the grand jury and take their testimony. Now you have to file a criminal case first to get discovery. Well, if I don’t have the facts for a criminal case, or if I file it without being sure it’s a crime, that’s a violation of ethics. So the grand jury is there to help us solve some very difficult cases that are constantly reoccurring that we don’t have the power to investigate. 

Why do you think there’s so much resistance to this idea of a grand jury on the City Council?

I don’t know, to be honest with you. There shouldn’t be any resistance. I am their lawyer. I cannot investigate my own client. I don’t know if they get that, I don’t know if they understand that.

They think that you’re going to investigate them?

Yeah. They’re afraid. Accountability must be…I tell you, you want to investigate me? Have at it. I hope that we hold each other and ourselves accountable for everything we do in public life. That’s what transparency’s all about. And if you’ve been transparent in how you’ve conducted your public life, even if I could investigate you, why would it matter? But I can’t. I can’t. So whatever blowback I’m getting is from lack of understanding or just, I don’t care and I don’t want to run the risk. 

Do you think you’ve done anything to encourage this view that you would investigate them?

No. I think they’re frightened that I’m strong. I’m not a weeping willow. I’m smart in terms of how I run this office. We’re effective. We’re thorough. When you have someone who’s competent and in a position of authority, it tends to frighten some people. 

Would you say that you have sort of an adversarial relationship with the City Council?

No. Not at all. A couple of members of the City Council perhaps.

Jan Perry?

You can form your own opinion. They know who they are. (Laughs.)


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