Who is L.A. District Attorney Gil Garcetti protecting?

Last June, Orange County Superior Court Judge Everett W. Dickey set Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt free, vacating the former Black Panther's 24-year-old murder conviction. After a seven-month review of the case, the tough-nosed, conservative jurist found that prosecutors covered up the fact that their star witness against Pratt, Julius Butler, was at the time working as an informant for the FBI. This information, had it been "properly and timely disclosed . . . would have permitted potentially devastating cross-examination" of Butler, Dickey wrote. And without Butler, the judge ruled, what the prosecution had left was "certainly not an overwhelming case."

Garcetti's office filed a 202-page challenge of Dickey's ruling with the 2nd District Court of Appeal last week. It's going to be a hard sell. The appellate panel that will hear the case is viewed by legal observers as among the least conservative on a court dominated by Wilson-era ideologues. And the law requires the higher court to accept Dickey's "findings of fact," making a reversal of the lower court's ruling less likely still.

Given the odds, then, why is Garcetti pursuing the appeal? The answer comes from deep within his own office. In Dickey's court, two long-term prosecutors, Ronald "Mike" Carroll and Edmund Lutes Jr., made startling admissions. Carroll conceded, nearly 27 years after he'd taken the Pratt case to the grand jury, that he thought the principal eyewitness was "flaky." Lutes, who as an LAPD officer testified for the prosecution back in 1972, revealed for the first time last January that he knew all along that the FBI was involved in the case. Garcetti was quick to defend his lieutenants: "The prosecutors who have handled this case over the years," he said last June, "acted appropriately and ethically." To prove that point, it seems, Garcetti continues his fruitless and vindictive pursuit of Geronimo Pratt.

The Next Gobernador?

Call him a numbers guy, call him a millionaire with no experience, but don't call Democratic gubernatorial candidate Al Checchi pendejo. The former Northwest Airlines honcho is the first - and so far the only - candidate in the race to succeed Wilson who is actively reaching out for the Latino vote.

The wooing began back in November when the Checchi campaign first ran 60-second spots featuring the candidate's wife, who is fluent en espanol, on Spanish-language stations across the state. So far the campaign, funded by Checchi's personal fortune, has spent close to $900,000 on the Spanish-language ads - roughly the same proportion of his total spending ($5.5 million to date) as the Latino electorate is to the overall voters.

More remarkable yet, the Spanish-language spots have been pitching the exact message - investing more in education and the like - Checchi is selling to English-speaking audiences. It may not be a message that sets the state on fire, but so far Checchi is the only candidate making the pitch to what is the fastest-growing segment of voters who will choose our next gobernador.

Puffing Riordan

"Forcefully." "Stridently." "Deceptively strong." "Productive."
"Persistent." "A tough negotiator." These are just a few of the words L.A. Times City Hall reporter Jim Newton used this week in his fawning "Washington Connection" article on Mayor Riordan's will-he-won't-he flirtation with a gubernatorial bid.

Even more than his breathless plumping of Riordan, what struck us was how much spin Newton put on the federal government's recent award of an empowerment zone to L.A., which Newton credited to Riordan's "persistent pursuit." (Don'cha love alliteration?) Newton did allow that the empowerment zone was "denied two years ago after local officials submitted a much-derided application." But due to Newton's painstakingly vague language, you might have assumed the "local officials" who botched the original application were, say, the commissioners of the Puente Hills Sewer Abatement District.

According to the Times' original 1994 coverage of the matter, however, the involved "local officials" were the topmost staffers in Mayor Riordan's office. In other words, Riordan had to spend the last two years undoing the mess his own subordinates made of the original empowerment-zone submission.

But this was merely the latest installment in the Times' shameless puffing of Riordan into a "dynamic," "forceful" "leader" (all words used in recent Newton stories on the mayor) that has set eyeballs rolling around City Hall. "It's beyond embarrassing," said one high-ranking city official of the coverage. "At this point it's downright misrepresentation of fact."

State Baffles Times

"Prop. 208's Miller to Seek Lungren's Job," ran the headline on page 3 of Tuesday's L.A. Times. The story went on to explain that former acting secretary of state and campaign-finance-reform honcho Tony Miller had announced his candidacy for lieutenant governor. Problem is, lieutenant governor is Gray Davis' job. Dan Lungren is attorney general.

Time now for a pop quiz. The Times' mistake is due chiefly to the fact that: A) Nobody in California knows anything about state government; B) Dan Lungren secretly is lieutenant governor, but nobody knows it (see A); C) Gray Davis died in obscurity around 1995 (see A and B); D) Governor Riordan plans to merge the jobs anyway, and combine them with both U.S. Senate slots, and appoint Eli Broad to all of them; or E) Michael Parks is writing the headlines at the Times. Send your answers to Lieutenant Governor Dan Lungren.

-Edited by Sam Gideon Anson

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