City Attorney Carmen Trutanich Withholds Occupy L.A. Video On First Amendment

City Attorney Carmen Trutanich Withholds Occupy L.A. Video On First Amendment

Gene Maddaus
LA Weekly
Thu, 05/17/2012

Carmen Trutanich is running for district attorney on a pledge to bring "honesty, transparency and integrity" to the D.A.'s office. His record on honesty is a bit checkered, and lately his commitment to transparency has come into question as well.

In a recent debate, Chief Deputy D.A. Jackie Lacey criticized Trutanich for advising the L.A. Fire Department not to release its response times. Trutanich warned fire officials they could be criminally prosecuted for making such data public, according to a letter issued by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Trutanich has also refused to release an hour-long video on the First Amendment, which was shown to Occupy L.A. protesters in lieu of prosecution. The reason? The video is part of an "ongoing investigation."

"That's a baloney response," said Terry Francke, general counsel of Californians Aware, a First Amendment advocacy group. "It's a mindless reaction that doesn't correspond to anything in the law."

Trutanich initially wanted to charge Occupy L.A. arrestees $375 for a specially designed class on the First Amendment. By taking the class, they could keep their records clean. The arrestees objected to the cost, and some argued that it was Trutanich who needed the lesson on the First Amendment.

Ultimately, the National Lawyers Guild brokered an agreement under which law professor Laurie Levenson would teach the class, at no cost to participants. The first class was held on Feb. 28, and was videotaped. The L.A. Weekly filed a request for the video under the California Public Records Act on March 1.

The city attorney's office denied the request on the grounds that the video constituted a record of a law enforcement investigation.

"There's no way that's exempt as a law enforcement record," Francke said. "Unless what they're saying is they're investigating Laurie Levenson's skill as an lecturer."

In fact, the law forbids the city attorney from using information gathered in a pre-trial diversion program in court. So Levenson's comments are expressly barred from being used in an investigation into Occupy L.A.

"I don't see how that could in any way be part of an ongoing investigation," said Jim Lafferty, an attorney with the National Lawyers Guild, who helped arrange the agreement with Trutanich's office. "How the presentation itself could not be available for the public to see is something I can't get my mind around."

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