Los Angeles City Hall politics revealed from an insider's point of view.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

City Attorney's ACE Program Promises Swift Justice At Small Price

Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich and Councilmember Paul Koretz (CD5) have been quietly but steadily working together for the past two years on a plan to streamline the handling of minor, low-grade violations of the municipal code. The Administrative Citations Enforcement program (ACE) will allow Trutanich to impose fines (administrative citations) on violators without the traditional high costs and delays of the criminal justice system. Apart from the clear advantage of swift justice, it will also generate a revenue stream that will not only cover the costs of the program, but also yield several millions of dollars in fines and fees that will go to the General Fund.

At 1PM on Monday, September 26, 2011, the Budget and Finance Committee will vote on Trutanich's proposal, and members of the public are welcome to testify as to their thoughts on ACE.

The ACE program was an idea Trutanich came up with when he became LA's first fiscally conservative City Attorney in decades. A former Republican, Trutanich reinvented himself as an independent but kept a firm grip on his Republican values. Supporters will be pleased to find that unnecessary and often undue deference to civil liberties and minority interests, takes a distant second place to uniform enforcement of law. According to Trutanich, his idea was adopted by at least two major Californian cities after he shared his idea with them; San Diego and Santa Monica were rapid adopters and, according to Trutanich, "it's working just fine."

Although the idea was Trutanich's the impetus for ACE came from Councilmember Paul Koretz who represents Council District 5 which includes much of LA's wealthy westside community. Koretz had the bare bones of a plan to tackle common neighborhood complaints such as illegal vending, noise pollution, fence heights, unpermitted construction and untended front yards. Trutanich had to modify Koretz's two-page motion to beef it up with more effective enforcement measures that the liberal lawmaker had overlooked. Trutanich's final draft includes the following key concepts designed to ensure maximum enforcement with minimum delay and minimal or no cost.

1. Removal of the Criminal Court's Jurisdiction
Currently, neighborhood problems receive low priority in the already overcrowded criminal court system. Rogue judges often make allowances or exceptions for special interests and minorities that are not written into the letter of the law. ACE creates a parallel universe of Administrative Hearing Courts where the defendant will not be able to "game the system" with delays and typical defense attorney tricks. The goal is to ensure a uniform enforcement of the law with no exceptions.

The Trutanich Courts will be efficient and effective because:

  • There will be no jury - the judge decides everything.
  • There will be no public defender - if these criminals want an attorney, let them pay for one.
  • The judges will be selected by the City Attorney and told how to decide cases. That way, rogue judges can be quickly removed.
  • Specially selected prosecutors will staff the courts to assist the judge in matters of law.
  • If defendants want to fight cases, they will have to pay the fine first before the judge even hears their case.
  • If defendants fail to attend their scheduled hearing, a money judgment lien will be recorded against their home or business.

2. Fines not Jail Will Bring Rapid Results
The costs of incarceration are bankrupting the state. Sending more criminals to jail just adds to the strain on our limited resources. Using Administrative Penalties and Fees we can save money because:

  • No defendant in Trutanich Courts will ever be sent to jail by one of Trutanich's judges. 
  • Defendants will, instead, be made to pay their fines and fees, either by attachment of earnings or property liens.  
  • Defendants who delay resolving their obligations will face a daily increase in fines because every day that a violation exists, constitutes a new offense.

3. Criminals Cannot Hide Evidence
Oftentimes, defendants escape justice because they are able to hide or conceal incriminating evidence. Because the Trutanich Courts are non-criminal, the full range of constitutional protections such as the 4th, 5th and 6th Amendments to the Constitution do not apply. All that is required is Due Process - notice and an opportunity to be heard. Accordingly, the Trutanich Courts can:

  • Hear evidence that would be considered hearsay in a criminal court.
  • Compel the defendant to produce documents and items using a subpoena power similar to that used in criminal courts and grand juries.
  • Use evidence seized by enforcement officers without search warrants.
  • Hear incriminating statements made by defendants without "Miranda" warnings.

These are just a few of the ways that Trutanich will ensure that all our laws are applied fairly, evenly and appropriately to all who violate them. Yes, it is swift justice, but justice delayed is justice denied.

Unfortunately, not all citizens see things the right way, and there have been a few alarmist and ill informed criticisms of ACE. Stephen Box, who ran for CD4 and lost, published a hit piece on CityWatchLA, read it after reading this and you decide what's makes more sense. The Los Angeles Dragnet blog also criticized Carmen Trutanich for his ACE program, but the arguments made there are frankly ludicrous and completely biased against Trutanich.

For more information the draft ACE ordinance can be found at:

http://clkrep.lacity.org/onlinedocs/2010/10-0085_RPT_ATTY_06-27-11.pdf .

If you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact David Hersch or Christopher Koontz in Councilmember
Koretz’s office at 213-473-7005.

Come and testify at the Budget and Finance Committee:
September 26, 2011, 1:00 PM
Room 1010, City Hall
200 North Spring Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(Contact CD5 for Parking 213-473-7005.)

If you cannot attend the hearing, please send e-mails and letter of support to members of the
Budget and Finance Committee below.  Please copy Councilmember Paul Koretz.

Bernard Parks             bernard.c.parks@lacity.org
Tony Cardenas           tony.cardenas@lacity.org
Mitch Englander         mitch.englander@lacity.org
Paul Koretz                 paul.koretz@lacity.org
Bill Rosendahl            bill.rosendahl@lacity.org

Remember, City Attorney Carmen Trutanich has worked on this plan for over two years and if there were any real problems, he would have said so. His enemies inside City Hall want him to fail, but with your support that will not happen.

Thanks to the folks at LANeighbors.org for much of the information used here.

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