By Jasmyne A. Cannick
Prosecutorial reform in Los Angeles didn’t end with the defeat of Jackie Lacey. Believe it or not, two attorneys represent Los Angeles, and I’ve got news for my woke friends. Unless you elect a progressive prosecutor as city attorney, L.A. will never realize the reform that it’s after. Facts.
Gascón’s defeat of Lacey to lead the nation’s largest district attorney’s office was seen as the crown jewel in a wave of newly elected progressive prosecutors nationwide that also included the election of Larry Krasner in Philadelphia and Chesa Boudin in San Francisco. It was the first election of a district attorney in Los Angeles where the person who claimed to be the “toughest on crime” was not the favored candidate. And even though Gascón’s possibly facing a recall election after putting into place the policies that voters demanded and that he agreed to–all of the focus of the criminal justice reform advocates can’t be on Gascón going into 2022.
Next year, Angelenos are going to be tasked with electing a new city attorney.
City attorney, you say? Yes, city attorney, I say, and no, this person isn’t running to replace Gascón. Gascón was elected in 2020 to a four-year term–2022 would be just two years into that term. Gascón is the district attorney–I said, city attorney.
What Is The City Attorney
The city attorney of Los Angeles is arguably one of the most powerful–if not the most powerful–citywide elected official. The district attorney has one job: to prosecute felony crimes and occasionally misdemeanors that occur within Los Angeles County. That’s it. The city attorney, on the other hand, is the attorney for the City of Los Angeles.
Who Is The Current City Attorney
Mike Feuer, the current L.A. city attorney, spent the last eight years covering up police misconduct as the Los Angeles Police Department’s attorney. He hid body camera video from the public, prosecuted protestors and the unhoused, violated the Constitution by enforcing gang injunctions without first giving the accused individuals the chance to defend themselves, and engaged in anti-Blackness in general.
Thankfully, Feuer is termed out of office, but unfortunately, he is running for mayor–a campaign that will undoubtedly be followed by Black Lives Matter Los Angeles. Why? Because Feuer prosecuted many BLMLA organizers, including Dr. Melina Abdullah and Greg Akili, for speaking out at police commission meetings. So for that, he can expect to be the Jackie Lacey of the 2022 city elections.
L.A. Doesn’t Just Need A Progressive DA, It Needs A Progressive City Attorney Too
For criminal justice reform advocates to complete their sweeping reforms, they need to put a progressive in the city attorney’s office and reimagine the city attorney’s role in Los Angeles.
Much like the D.A.s office, we need a city attorney who will come into office on day one with a decline to prosecute mandate on drug crimes. We need a city attorney who will commit to decriminalizing homelessness and poverty. In Los Angeles, the city attorney–not the district attorney–often prosecutes low-level criminal cases charged with violating city ordinances, including trespassing, loitering, public drunkenness, and city health regulations.
The city attorney is also the lawyer for the LAPD. I know, I know, but that’s a part of the job that will not change. Los Angeles needs a city attorney who will not cover up police misconduct, pledges to take no cop money, and can stand up to the police chief and say, no, I won’t do that, or maybe more importantly, no, you can’t do that.
Imagine if Feuer would have said that when the city was sued (Case No. BC553987) for missing money and computers from the LAPD Newton Area Police Activities League–money that was alleged to have been taken under the direction of a captain. Instead, Mike Feuer quietly settled that lawsuit for the stolen cash and computers for 45,000 publicly funded dollars and agreed to have the computers returned. So if the computers were returned, that means they were taken.
The City Attorney’s Office and Police Bodycam Videos
Under Mike Feuer’s leadership, the city attorney’s office told a Black man and his girlfriend that it was their fault that they were arrested after the male was accosted by the police while bringing in the trash can. The police were looking for a domestic violence suspect and just assumed it was the first Black man they saw. When he wouldn’t go willingly, the police used force on him. His girlfriend came running out of their home to help him, and for her troubles, she was knocked naked into the street, arrested, and charged with felony lynching–a charge used against people who try to take someone out of custody of the police in California. In the meantime, the domestic violence suspect turned out to be a short white man.
But not only did Feuer’s office tell the couple all of what happened to them was their fault, but they also put a protective order on the bodycam footage so that the video would never see the light of day. In the video, the cops can be heard clearly racially profiling the man before they approached him. If it hadn’t been for a judge who sided with the couple’s attorney, that video might not have ever become public. But it did, and would you believe that Feuer’s office changed their tune and wanted to settle with the couple as quickly as possible. I guess that Feuer couldn’t afford to have this case hanging over his mayoral campaign.
What’s important about this whole situation is that Feuer and the city attorney’s office–which operate on taxpayer money–spent eight years wasting millions in public money to keep police bodycam video–also paid for by the taxpayer–away from the public.
The City Attorney’s Office and City Hall
Another part of the city attorney’s job is drafting city ordinances and resolutions and advising the city council, but not doling out the type of advice that tells councilmembers that they can kick unhoused people out of a public park with 24 hours notice. No, we need the kind of city attorney that says, yes, technically you can do that, but you shouldn’t, or here’s another more humane way to deal with the situation.
L.A. city attorney Mike Feuer most recently opined to Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell that only 24 hours’ notice to the unhoused living in Echo Park was required to enforce the 10:30 p.m. curfew. When you live in an apartment, and you’re being evicted, you get more than 24 hours to vacate–and that’s private property. Echo Park is public property last I checked.
The City Attorney’s Office and Civil Lawsuits
When you sue the city, it’s not the district attorney sitting across the aisle from you and your attorney. It’s the city attorney. The city attorney’s job is to defend the city, its police officers, and employees in lawsuits and actions filed against them.
In California, before you can sue a public entity for death, injury to a person, or personal property, you have to file a Claim for Damages with that public entity. In Los Angeles, you would submit it to the city clerk’s office. The claim allows the government to consider and remedy the injuries addressed in the claim without the need of formally bringing a lawsuit. If your claim is denied–like 99.9 percent of claims filed are–then you can move forward with filing an actual lawsuit.
In the past, that’s played out in several different ways. We’ve seen lawsuits filed by the families of those killed by police sent to trial and white police officers who sued the city for reverse racism have their cases settled by the city. What we need is a city attorney who will judge every claim on its merits and not be biased based on who is bringing it or who it is against
Our current attorney, Mike Feuer, has done the bare minimum to disclose the amount of legal payouts by the city either through settlements or court judgments.
According to an analysis of city records by the Los Angeles Times, “Over roughly the past 5½ years, Los Angeles paid out more than $245 million to resolve legal claims involving the Police Department — more than a third of the total amount of liability payouts for the city during that period. That number will soar to unprecedented levels with the number of lawsuits filed by Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and other activist groups alleging excessive force and other misconduct by officers during protests.
The amount of money paid in the legal payouts should be easily accessible, but under Mike Feuer’s administration, that has not been the case. The next city attorney must commit to accountability and transparency with legal payouts.
The City Attorney and the Prosecution of Misdemeanors
The city attorney prosecutes misdemeanor crimes such as domestic violence, drunk driving, and vandalism. But under Mike Feuer’s direction, the city attorney’s office has gone after and prosecuted the homeless and protestors for the last eight years.
Back in 2014, Feuer tried to prosecute me. I was out covering the protests that erupted after the deaths of Mike Brown in Ferguson and Ezell Ford in South Central Los Angeles. All white journalists were allowed out of the LAPD’s containment area, but I was arrested and hauled off to jail. I was accused of being the leader of the protest and charged. On the day the trial was set to start, the city attorney’s office dropped all charges.
More recently, the city attorney’s office charged Black Lives Matter organizer, Dr. Melina Abdullah with assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest. This was a direct response to Abdullah’s speaking out at meetings of the Police Commission.
Feuer prosecuted Greg Akili after he refused to sit down and stop shouting at then-commission President Matt Johnson during a police commission meeting.
The city attorney charged Akili with resisting arrest and misdemeanor battery after dragging the then-68-year-old out of the meeting. Akili refused a plea deal. Feuer took the case to trial; a jury convicted him of resisting arrest but couldn’t decide on the battery charge.
And while he wasn’t too busy to prosecute BLM activists, Mike Feuer refused to help tenants who were victims of room-for-rent scams in South L.A. and were ending up homeless. The City of Los Angeles had to pay money to the tenants who had been taken advantage of. Still, Feuer was too busy to file charges against the woman responsible, and so to this day, she is still running their room-for-rent scam in South L.A., taking advantage of unsuspecting low-income people in need of shelter.
We need a city attorney that rejects stupidity.
No, we shouldn’t be prosecuting the unhoused arrested for “stealing city services” and theft for plugging their cellphone charger into an outlet on a sidewalk planter box.
Similarly, we shouldn’t be prosecuting people arrested on the Metro train by the Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies for “foul order,” especially when the city hasn’t done what it needs to do to provide the means for unhoused people to regularly shower.
Feuer has spent the last eight years using public money to wage war against people experiencing homelessness, poverty, mental health issues, or substance use disorders in Los Angeles. L.A.’s next city attorney must come into office with a decline to prosecute policy for the vast majority of low-level crimes. These crimes include consensual sex work and drug possession and prosecutions that target homeless, poor people who have mental health issues or suffer from substance use disorders.
The City Attorney Does Other Stuff Too
The city attorney is also responsible for prosecuting code violations, including building and safety, public health, or environmental justice. Domestic violence crimes, elder abuse, consumer protections also fall under the jurisdiction of the city attorney.
In Los Angeles, unlike the D.A.s office, our city attorney’s office also runs the Dispute Resolution Program that provides legal services in the form of dispute resolution for people who live or conduct business in Los Angeles County. The program includes landlord/tenant dispute resolution, mediation, and neighborhood dispute resolution. The Dispute Resolution Program mediates all types of civil disputes such as business-related, community-related, consumer/merchant-related, employment-related, discrimination-related, landlord/tenant, matters related to ethnicity and or race, neighborhood-related, and school-related.
We will also need to reimagine the way in which the city attorney’s office uses diversion programs.
Candidates for City Attorney Whose Campaigns Should Be Dead on Arrival
Now that you understand what the job is let’s talk about who the job isn’t.
Disclaimer: I don’t hate prosecutors. As I have said many times before, I am not an abolitionist. Remember, I helped to put Ed Buck in the jail cell he currently resides in and am vigorously cheering on the AUSA’s prosecuting him.
But this isn’t about my feelings. This is about how criminal justice reform advocates get the changes they want in L.A. at every single level.
Anyone who formerly worked for or currently works under Mike Feuer running for city attorney should be dead on arrival. Especially any candidate who brags about being in the unit that deals with police body-cam evidence. You are part of the problem.
The candidacy of any current or former prosecutor should also be dead on arrival. If we want change, we need to elect change. What we don’t need is more of the same disguised and packaged to look and seem different. They’re not. What’s that saying about putting lipstick on a pig?
City hall insiders are probably not the best fit for this job either if the goal is to move away from the status quo. You can’t do that by electing the status quo’s candidate.
That said, far be it from me to condemn someone who claims to have seen the error of their ways and registers as a Democrat right before an election. If the goal is to change hearts and minds then we have to be accepting when we succeed. But I also remember something Maya Angelou said about when someone shows you who they are, believing them the first time.
I believe that had former public defender Rachel Rossi jumped into the race for DA before Gascón, who was the San Francisco DA and a former cop, she would have won.
It’s a long way from bended knee to the altar. Many people claim they are running for office and even raise money but don’t end up filing to run for office.
But if I remove all current and former prosecutors from the running and city hall insiders, that leaves two corporate attorneys and one civil rights attorney even worth considering.
Full disclosure, I am supporting the civil rights attorney Faisal Gill, and if criminal justice reform in Los Angeles is important to you, I recommend you do too. I don’t have time to waste on candidates who I already know are more of the same. There’s too much at stake.
Last year, Angelenos sent a resounding message to the entire country when we elected George Gascón as our DA. We’re prepared to defend that decision if recall efforts are successful. But we need to follow Gascón’s election up with electing a progressive city attorney in 2022–especially as we continue to battle our city’s growing unhoused and housing crisis.
Realizing true criminal justice reform in Los Angeles means in addition to electing progressive D.A.s, sheriffs, and judges, we need to send a progressive attorney to take up space and shake things up in City Hall East.
The next progressive prosecutor battle in L.A. is not only defending George Gascón from a possible recall. It’s electing a City Attorney.