Money, Money, Money

If money is the mother’s milk of politics, does it really matter where the cow is stabled? This is a question city officials may soon have to answer. For, as it happened, most of the money contributed to City Council candidates in last year’s election came from individuals or organizations from outside the candidates’ actual council districts. Many of those contributors, in fact, lived or were located outside the city.

These findings (which were not broken down by individual candidates) turned up in the latest campaign-spending report from the City Ethics Commission. They suggest that money from outside the district was paramount in determining who wins the seat in a district. This trend was apparent in all eight of the odd-numbered council districts (1st through 15th) up for election in 1997. Even in the affluent districts, the local contributors were well in the minority: 38 percent in winner Mike Feuer’s 5th District; 33 percent in Cindy Miscikowski’s 11th District.

But the local participation was spectacularly insignificant in less affluent districts. In Rita Walters’ 9th Council District, for instance, only 4 percent, or one-twenty-fifth, of all contributions in the race came from within her district. Sixty percent came from elsewhere in the city (don’t forget that Walters represents the commuter-ridden downtown business area), and 36 percent from outside Los Angeles.

At 7 percent of the total, local contributions were similarly scant in the contest for the 7th District Valley seat just surrendered by incoming state Senator Richard Alarcon. But the most intriguing figure here was for contributions from outside the city altogether, which stood at 48 percent of the total for that council district.

In 1993 and 1997, the biggest givers, collectively, to the various races turned out, unsurprisingly, to be L.A. city employees (after all, they have to work for these people), with $160,000 in all. The number-two top employee contributor, surprisingly, was Riordan & McKinzie, our mayor’s own law firm. This suggests the mayor’s law firm may not have distanced itself from city business as suggested by the mayor.

—Marc B. Haefele

 

 

Lowering the Bar

It wasn’t quite another Gray Davis victory party that the California State Bar held last week in San Diego, but it was darned near that. Governor Pete Wilson had more or less declared war on the Bar Association (to which every lawyer practicing in the state must belong), charging it with such liberal misdeeds as a tendency to endorse the less conservative judicial candidates as well as to criticize some of Wilson’s own right-wing favorites.

Wilson wreaked mighty vengeance earlier this year by vetoing a bill authorizing annual member dues. Wilson’s action had surprisingly wide support, because many attorneys thought the bar dues were unduly onerous and were financing a bloated, costly and inefficient organization.

Wilson’s veto forced some 500 bar layoffs. But the state Supreme Court finally bailed out the association early this month with a ruling that ordered each California attorney to pay $173 to save the bar. Active attorneys will each reportedly be asked to contribute more than $300 so that the bar may once again thrive.

But has the bar learned an economics lesson from its near-death experience? Not necessarily. Some convention attendees grumbled that, while the bar maintains pretentious facilities in both Los Angeles and San Francisco, the impecunious organization deigned to hold its December 4 weekend fete at an exclusive San Diego–area beachside resort.

—Marc B. Haefele

 

 

Waiting for Justice

Conventional wisdom has it that in a court date with justice, you’re better off with a high-powered attorney at your side than the truth. Just think O.J. Simpson, Claus von Bulow, or even Mr. Savings and Loan, Charles Keating.

Well, last week some poorer defendants got theirs: Five of the city’s top law firms will be showing up in immigration court to represent Central Americans who are living in legal limbo. The firms include top guns Latham & Watkins, O’Melveny & Myers, and Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro, all lawyering pro bono under the aegis of a new program launched by the Central American Resource Center (CARACEN) and the Mexican American Bar Association (MABA).

Last week’s announcement couldn’t have come at a better time for more than 400,000 Salvadorans and Guatemalans who fled their war-torn countries in the 1980s and now call Los Angeles home. Part of a special class known as ABC, these immigrants have spent nearly a decade waiting for the immigration service to make good on promises to resolve their immigration status. Last year, Congress granted Nicaraguans and Cubans asylum, but denied the same to Salvadorans and Guatemalans, making it difficult for them to qualify for asylum under the current, prohibitive regulations.

The big-name firms could "make a big difference because INS will take notice when Latham & Watkins walks into court," said CARACEN attorney Judy London. The legal-residency petitions have taken on a new urgency for Central Americans who face deportation to homelands devastated by Hurricane Mitch.

—Sandra Hernandez

 

A Date With Death

A new execution date has been set for convicted murderer Jaturun Siripongs, a former Buddhist monk who was saved from lethal injection just hours before his scheduled death in November by a federal judge who was concerned about Governor Pete Wilson’s clemency process in the case. The new execution date, February 9, will allow the attorneys for Siripongs, who has consistently maintained his innocence, a chance to make their case before incoming Governor Gray Davis.

—Sara Catania