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
Granted, many of these police-corruption cases had statute-of-limitations issues and problematic witnesses (because many of the alleged victims were gang members). And on the plus side, Cooley improved the methodology of the Rampart probe by insisting on written dispositions of outstanding cases, which were then reviewed by senior managers. He also established protocols that will govern the handling of alleged police misconduct in the future. That’s a real and helpful incremental step.
But Cooley simply misled voters into thinking that something more fundamentally sweeping would occur if we entrusted Rampart to him. We had a right to expect more. For one thing, Cooley never sufficiently looked into potential corruption in other divisions. And to all appearances, his office failed to pursue obvious leads turned up by reporters at both the Weekly and the Los Angeles Times.His administration implicitly undermines the imperative of reforming police culture when it issues press releases referring to the "so-called Rampart scandal." Cooley’s tepidness on Rampart alone would justify a non-endorsement.
But there’s more. Though an able prosecutor, Cooley learned too well but none too wisely from the troubles of Garcetti with the O.J. Simpson case and its like. Apparently, Cooley deduced that tough prosecutions are to be avoided when possible. At other times, Cooley seemed content to win a small conviction — as against the developer of Newhall Ranch, when a major prosecution was called for.
All in all, Cooley appears reluctant to take on not only big developers but also powerful political players, including Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger — Cooley wanted no part of an investigation into groping allegations. And though Garcetti was overly political, Cooley can be nonpolitical to a fault. He’s just temperamentally unsuited to using his office’s bully pulpit to seek helpful legislation or funding in either Sacramento or Washington.
Other than Rampart, Cooley’s main campaign pledge was to go after those responsible for the Belmont Learning Complex debacle — the country’s most expensive and still-unfinished high school construction project. The upshot of the Belmont probe — zero prosecutions — is difficult to assess; the tortured project embodied a challenging, nuanced set of facts, replete with statute-of-limitations problems and the conundrum of determining when bad decisions, profiteering and ethical transgressions rise to the level of criminal violations.
It’s how Cooley managed the Belmont investigation that is most disturbing. The D.A. presided awkwardly over a task force of prosecutors, investigators and outside consultants who waged war among themselves over whether crimes were committed. Cooley then sat on his office’s Belmont report until, it appears, a peripheral L.A. Times story flushed it out. It looks like Cooley was stalling because he feared political fallout over the report would haunt him. Such cautiousness is textbook Cooley, but not the sort of calculation we can endorse.
Yet we’re also not comfortable endorsing any of Cooley’s challengers. We’re nonplussed, in fact, at the lack of an "A-team" opponent from the Democrats or anyone else:Nick Pacheco:Pacheco, a former elected official who says he’s also counting on his Spanish surname to attract votes, has the best chance of making a runoff. As a D.A., says Pacheco, he’d be in the mold of L.A. City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo and California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, both of whom have law degrees but have deeper résumés as politicos.
Pacheco worked as a prosecutor for about four years, before he won election to the L.A. City Council. On the council, he showed a workmanlike competence. Then he was ousted last year, after one term, by the more charismatic, more visionary Antonio Villaraigosa.
Okay, that was a bad break for Pacheco, but it’s no reason to make him D.A. Especially because Pacheco’s background includes a too-close-for-comfort association with dirty campaign tricks. Pacheco, who speaks persuasively of his altar-boy sensibilities, denies any wrongdoing. He points out that no one has ever proved his personal involvement in a smear campaign. But they did involve his political allies, his supporters and his senior staff.
In addition, as a council member, Pacheco awarded city grants to a nonprofit that operated out of the same address as a group that performed "independent" campaign work for him. In one instance, the amount of a city grant to the nonprofit almost exactly matched the amount of money the political organization said it intended to spend on campaign work. Just a coincidence, said organizers. No charges were brought, so once again, there was no proven illegal activity.
Overall, however, Pacheco seems a poor ethical fit for the D.A.’s job, an opinion that’s shared by a handful of prosecutors we polled on the matter. Moreover, his intellectual investment in the race is not compelling. His last-minute candidacy seems based mainly on the notion that he’s probably got the best shot at pushing Cooley into a runoff.Roger Carrick:A private attorney who specializes in environmental law, Carrick brings with him an impressively wide-ranging background, except that it’s almost bereft of actual prosecutorial experience. We like many of his ideas, such as his desire to focus on the entire life cycle of a gun to prosecute its makers, sellers and owners — at every possible opportunity whenever laws have been violated. Carrick’s politics are decidedly more progressive than Cooley’s, and his thinking more intellectually expansive. The eloquent Carrick wouldn’t hesitate to use the bully pulpit of the office, for example, to lobby Washington and Sacramento for more funding.