LA’s City Attorney Carmen Trutanich is pushing for the passage of a bill in the state legislature that would give him his very own grand jury—making him, it is believed, the only city attorney in the nation to have such powers.
City Council members Jan Perry and Bernard Parks aren’t sure this is such a swell idea. I tend to agree with them.
The Los Angeles District Attorney has two grand juries at his disposal. Trutanich, who can prosecute civil matters and misdemeanors, says he needs one too, as the LA Times reports:
City Atty. Carmen Trutanich asked that Los Angeles be the only city in California given power to empanel a grand jury to investigate significant misdemeanor cases. Legislation approved by the state Senate on Tuesday would grant that request, providing the panel with authority to subpoena documents and compel testimony before criminal charges are filed.
“This is a tool that, when used properly, will get to the bottom of a real criminal act,” Trutanich said. “I know from a public safety standpoint the citizens of Los Angeles will be much better off for it.
He complains of a Catch-22: He can’t slap the hospitals involved with subpoenas for records, or compel witnesses to tell what they know, before he files criminal charges. But filing charges requires such evidence to back them up.
Uh, yeah. That evidence thingy…..it’s kind of the point. You’re supposed to have some of it before you file.
Whereas Grand Juries, as a famous crime writer once wrote, will pretty much indict a ham sandwich if the D.A. asks nicely, proper evidence or no.
The proposed grand jury would not have the power to indict, only to investigate crimes. But if Trutanich gets his, it would give the city attorney a lot of unrestricted power. Unlike the other cogs in the legal system, a GJ may investigate, interview witnesses, demand testimony and information in a manner that is freed from certain restrictions that a conventional legal process imposes. Also a grand jury does its work entirely out of the public view and devoid of scrutiny, thus grand juries are notoriously open to abuse.
In addition, according to Perry and Parks, a grand jury adds another big ticket item to the budget in a fiscal climate where the city needs to cut big ticket items.
They are also uncomfortable with the State Legislature “singling out” the City of Los Angeles for this kind of decision without the LA city council having some say so.
I agree with all their points.
Certainly we want Mr. Trutanich to have the tools he needs to best do his job and we are happy that he has been aggressive in going after people like the supersign scofflaws. But all that said, our city attorney has not shown a strong inclination for self moderation when in comes to the power his office already possesses. So it would seem prudent for the rest of us to think through the implications of the matter before handing over the keys to a brand new, souped-up grand jury.
I’ll keep you up to date as this unfolds.