By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
standard, don’t go to court. All you’re doing is wasting the taxpayers’ money and probably engaging in an abuse of your prosecutorial powers.”
He may have a point. It’s easy to brand the district attorney as a soft touch on crime when no one is indicted, but the criticism would turn to outrage if Cooley actually brought charges in a high-profile case and failed to get a conviction.
Or maybe not. The case of Inglewood Police Officer Jeremy Morse, who was caught on videotape slugging a handcuffed suspect, aroused a mere fraction of the public outcry sparked by the Rodney King tape more than a decade earlier. Even the successful celebrity cases raise little awareness of Cooley. The Winona Ryder shoplifting case drew worldwide media coverage, but little of it reflected, for good or bad, on Cooley. The board displaying high-profile cases in the D.A.’s media relations office lists a handful of famous people, like Robert Blake and Phil Spector, and some public officials, like former Entertainment Industry Development Corporation President Cody Cluff. Their names are seldom heard in the same sentence as Cooley’s. Nothing sticks to him. It could be that, unlike Garcetti and Ira Reiner before him, Cooley cares little for the spotlight. In a city in which politics is handled quietly, a quiet D.A. may have a certain advantage.
Cooley’s office slipped so completely under the radar that as of last summer, only one opponent, veteran prosecutor Tom Higgins, had made plans to run against him. Higgins was unhappy about being removed from his post leading the Abolish Chronic Truancy program. But he also is campaigning against what he calls Cooley’s too-lenient Three Strikes policy. That plays well with some people inside the office, but it doesn’t open up much ground for voters in a majority Democratic county to consider dumping the incumbent.
In the last week of filing , four others signed on. There were Carrick and Patchett, who feel burned on the Belmont matter, and Nick Pacheco, who worked as a deputy D.A. under Garcetti, was elected to the City Council, was investigated but not charged by Cooley in connection with the faked Gloria Molina phone call, and got ousted last year by Antonio Villaraigosa. Rounding out the field is Denise Moehlman, who sued the D.A.’s office for sexual harassment during Garcetti’s tenure, only to be slapped with an order to pay $15,579.57 in court costs and $111,462 in attorney fees. None of them will beat Cooley March 2. But there remains an outside chance that all of them, together, will deprive the D.A. of the 50 percent plus 1 that he needs to avoid a November runoff with the second-highest finisher.
I remember interviewing an unknown Steve Cooley nearly a year before he filed to take on Gil Garcetti, and writing a profile that quoted prosecutors and political wonks saying Garcetti’s time might finally be up and that this obscure career deputy might be the one to beat him. It was a bit of a kick when it actually happened, and Cooley thanked me now and again for doing the first story on him as a potential candidate.
The Metropolitan News-Enterprise covered, and still covers, the courts and the legal community, and my colleagues and I interviewed some of the principals in the South Gate matter in the course of preparing stories on arguments at the state Court of Appeal. When I showed up for work on the morning of May 2, 2002, I was planning to go over my notes and figure out what story to write, or to assign, on the continuing controversy. But I couldn’t get to them. All my co-workers were clustered on the sidewalk in front of the building, and my colleague, Kimberly Edds (now at the Washington Post), explained that investigators from Cooley’s office kicked everybody out after the paper’s editor, co-publisher and co-owner, Roger Grace, refused to comply with a search warrant that gave Cooley’s people the right to go through our desks. You could see them through the glass door, diagramming the office. Edds had to plead with them to let her back in to get her coat.
A three-hour standoff ensued. I found out later that co-publisher Jo-Ann Grace had talked to Cooley’s people some weeks earlier and told them she would be happy to turn over the document they were seeking — an advertising order for a legal notice that apparently was to launch a recall effort by Albert Robles against his political foes — if they just brought her some kind of legal process, like a subpoena.
But instead of a subpoena Cooley’s people arrived with guns and a search warrant that listed, among the places to be searched, the files, desks, vehicles, trash containers, purses, wallets and other areas of “ADVERTISEMENT, ACCOUNTS RECEIVABLE” — so far, no problem, as far as I’m concerned — and “EDITING.” There’s the problem. As associate editor of the paper, I — and my staff — could have been subjected to a search in violation of 42 U.S. Code Sec. 2000aa, a law Congress passed to bolster First Amendment press freedoms after a search by police of the Stanford Daily in the 1970s.