Updated at 3:08 p.m. District Attorney Steve Cooley will retire next year after serving three terms in office.
In a letter to supporters, Cooley is endorsing his chief deputy, Jackie Lacey, to succeed him in next year's election. Cooley's retirement has been widely anticipated since he narrowly lost the race for attorney general last fall.
Cooley is breaking with the Republican Party by endorsing Lacey, who is a Democrat and who would be the county's first black and first female district attorney.
Lacey moved to L.A. County last year from Ventura County to be eligible for the office.
She will face tough competition from a crowded field of contenders, including City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, and prosecutors Alan Jackson, Bobby Grace, Danette Meyers and Mario Trujillo.
Cooley was a strong supporter of Trutanich in his race for city attorney. But he said in an interview that he believed Trutanich should fulfill his pledge to serve two terms in the city attorney's office.
"He made a commitment to be city attorney for the full term," Cooley said. "I've encouraged him to do that directly. It would be good for the city attorney's office and the city of L.A."
Some of the other candidates have urged Cooley to stay neutral in the campaign, but in the interview he said he believes there is "wisdom in succession planning."
"The crime rate is at a 60-year low. The murder rate is the lowest in anyone's memory," Cooley said. "There's a lot of good things happening, and [Lacey] knows it because she's been there at my side. She'll continue a lot of the good work."
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Cooley once supervised Lacey when they were both prosecutors in the San Fernando office. When he was elected D.A., Cooley brought her on board as part of his administrative team. He recently promoted her to chief deputy.
John Shallman, Trutanich's strategist, said in a statement that Cooley's endorsement was "expected, though a bit out of character, since one of the things that always set Steve Cooley apart was his determination to keep politics out of the office of District Attorney."
Shallman also provided a statement from Trutanich: "Steve Cooley has been my friend and mentor who has distinguished himself as a first class District Attorney, and I salute his years of public service. I had truly hoped he would serve another term."
First posted at 2:27 p.m.