LA Lawyers’ Newspaper Re-Ups Endorsement of Sydne Jane Michel, Declares Opponent Unfit for Office

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Candidate [Patricia “Patti” Hunter] Seeks to Skirt New Law Curbing Misleading Ballot Designations
The Metropolitan News-Enterprise is the Los Angeles daily newspaper written primarily for legal professionals. The newspaper focuses largely on the legal profession and the courts, primarily in Los Angeles County. As such, the Met-News has unique access to information concerning judicial candidates, and is uniquely qualified to vet and evaluate those candidates.

Los Angeles City Attorney Michael N. Feuer is a prevaricator.

Judicial candidate Patricia Hunter, a Los Angeles deputy city attorney, has plainly established her unfitness for election to the Los Angeles Superior Court.

Harsh words? Yes. But, we submit, they’re warranted.

VOTERS WERE SWAYED in past judicial elections in Los Angeles County by inventive and emotion-evoking titles such as “Child Molestation Prosecutor” and “Gang Homicide Prosecutor.” A reform bill, SB 245—the genesis of which was an editorial in this newspaper— was introduced last year, enacted, and went into effect Jan. 1.

Now, such generic descriptions of government attorneys are barred. A candidate may not, for example, be listed as a “Prosecuting Attorney,” there being no such office title. Yet, that’s the description Hunter seeks to have printed below her name on the Nov. 6 ballot.

The impediment is that Elections Code §13107(b)(2) now provides:

“For a candidate for judicial office who is an active member of the State Bar employed by a city, county, district, state, or by the United States, the designation shall appear as one of the following:

“(A) Words designating the actual job title, as defined by statute, charter, or other governing instrument.

“(B) One of the following ballot designations: ‘Attorney,’ ‘Attorney at Law,’ ‘Lawyer,’ or ‘Counselor at Law.’ The designations ‘Attorney’ and ‘Lawyer’ may be used in combination with one other [pursuit]….”

HUNTER PORTRAYED HERSELF, TRUTHFULLY, on the June 5 primary ballot as “Deputy City Attorney, City of Los Angeles.” That’s precisely what she is. But then she, or some adviser, hit upon the notion that she just might be able to get by with using the vote-attracting word “Prosecutor” in her Nov. 6 ballot designation.

On July 31, the candidate submitted to the Registrar-Recorder’s Office a paper announcing that she’s now a “Prosecuting Attorney, City of Los Angeles.” Yet, that’s not her “actual job title.” It’s a description of her function within the City Attorney’s Office.

Feuer, under penalty of perjury, vouched for the validity of the designation. His declaration was among the attachments to Hunter’s Ballot Designation Worksheet submitted to the Office of Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder. Registrar-Recorder Dean Logan, whose bungling is persistent, approved the new designation.

FEUER’S DECLARATION SAYS, in part, (with paragraph numbering omitted):

 “I have been informed that a question has been raised as to judicial candidate Patricia A. (Patti) Hunter’s job title as defined under Election Code Section 13107(b)(2)(A), which requires, ‘Words designating the actual job title, as defined by statute, charter, or other governing instrument.’

“The Los Angeles City Attorney’s Conflict of Interest Code, adopted by the Los Angeles City Council, lists Ms. Hunter’s actual job title as ‘Prosecuting Attorney.’ ”

The clear intent is to convey that, based on the Conflict of Interest Code, Hunter’s “actual job title” in the office is “Prosecuting Attorney.” Feuer surely knows that is not her title.

THE CONFLICT OF INTEREST CODE places each of the 500-plus attorneys in the office, as well as other employees, in one of 28 “disclosure categories,” depending on their duties.

For example, a deputy city attorney listed as a “Harbor Division Attorney” is in Category 7 and, like others in that category (“Harbor Division Law Clerk,” “Harbor Division Legal Assistant”), must disclose “[a]ny interest in real property located on or within two miles of land which is under the jurisdiction of the Harbor Department.”

Similarly, a “Workers’ Comp Division Attorney” is obliged to tell of “[a]ny investment in, income from or business positions with any person or business entity which is a physician or medical services group doing business in the City of Los Angeles”; a “Civil Appellate Division Attorney” must reveal “[a]ny investment in, income from or business position with any person or business entity which provides printing and/or filing services for appellate briefs”; a “Labor Relations Attorney” must report “[i]ncome from any employee organization which represents or seeks to represent employees of the City of Los Angeles,” and so forth.

A “Prosecuting Attorney,” and others in Category 3 (including Special Assistant—Neighborhood & School Safety,” “Special Operations Law Clerk,” “Criminal Appeals Attorney,” and “Domestic Violence Legislative & Policy Advisor”) must make specified disclosures, including “[a]ny interest in real property located within the City of Los Angeles or not more than two miles outside the boundaries of the City.”

A “Prosecuting Attorney” is in a different disclosure category from a “Civil Litigation Attorney” not because these two types of deputy city attorneys have different job titles but because disclosure requirements imposed on lawyers handling suits by and against the city would not sensibly be applied to prosecutors, and aren’t. These disclosures include “[a]ny investment in, income from or business position with any person or business entity which filed a claim for money, damages or other relief against the City of Los Angeles which is being or during the past twelve months was assigned to the person’s division in the Civil Liability Management Branch or any attorney or law firm that represents those persons or entities.”

THE CONFLICTS “CODE” LISTS job functions for the sole purpose of assigning the person to a disclosure category. It does not create “actual job titles.”

The Los Angeles City Charter says that the city attorney “may appoint…deputies” and the Administrative Code sets forth the “actual job title” of those in that position, along with the grades: “Deputy City Attorney I,” “Deputy City Attorney II,” “Deputy City Attorney III,” and “Deputy City Attorney IV.”

In 2010, reacting to the salary scandal in the tiny city of Bell, then-Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Gruel had the annual salaries of all city employees, outside the Department of Water and Power, placed online, by job title. Included are “DEPUTY CITY ATTY” I through IV. There is no listing for the non-existent position of “Prosecuting Attorney.”

NO CONFUSION LOOMS within the City Attorney’s Office as to the job title of the lawyers. On the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office website, Mary Clare Molidor, chief of the Criminal and Special Litigation Branch, is not listed as “Chief Assistant Prosecuting Attorney.” There is no such title. She’s identified as “Chief Assistant City Attorney.”

Under “Current Openings,” jobs available include:

“DEPUTY CITY ATTORNEY, MARIJUANA ENFORCEMENT UNIT, SAFE NEIGHBORHOODS AND GANG DIVISION, CRIMINAL AND SPECIAL LITIGATION BRANCH.”

It doesn’t say, “Prosecuting Attorney.”

Press releases tell of the office’s efforts and successes in gaining convictions. They do not refer to the “Prosecuting Attorney” in the case. Here are examples of what they say:

“The case was successfully prosecuted by Assistant City Attorney Richard Kraft”; “This case was…prosecuted by Deputy City Attorney Heidi Matz”; “The cases are being prosecuted by Deputy City Attorney Margarita Barron”; “Deputy City Attorney Bethelwel Wilson successfully prosecuted the case”; “Deputy City Attorney Ella Fernandez is prosecuting the case”; “Deputy City Attorneys Ella Fernandez and Nick Karno both with Feuer’s Environmental Justice Unit, are prosecuting the cases.”

A prosecutor in the office, queried as the office job title of those seeking criminal convictions, responded:

“The designation we use in the office is just ‘Deputy City Attorney.’ ”

Deputy city attorneys on the criminal-law side in the office are doubtlessly scratching their heads over Hunter’s pronouncement that their true titles are other than what they have been using, what appears under their names on papers they file and on their business cards.

No, the office is not uncertain as to the actual job title of its lawyers—and Feuer cannot possibly be unclear, either. Yet, he has executed a declaration under penalty of perjury aimed at creating a wrong impression.

There were expectations that Feuer’s ethical standards would transcend those of his disgraced predecessor. They haven’t.

IN HIS DECLARATION, Feuer says:

“The Los Angeles City Charter Section 271 details both the powers and duties of the City Attorney, separating out the civil and criminal functions. Section 271(c) provides: ‘(c) The City Attorney shall prosecute on behalf of the people all criminal cases and related proceedings arising from violation of the provisions of the Charter and City ordinances, and all misdemeanor offenses arising from violation of the laws of the state occurring in the City.’ (emphasis added).”

Well, yes, the City Charter does say that. And the point is?

What this shows is that in the City of Los Angeles, prosecutorial functions are entrusted to the city attorney, not to a “city prosecutor,” a post that exists in some, though not many, locales. That has no bearing on what the “actual job title” is of a member of the City Attorney’s Office who happens to handle prosecutions.

Feuer continues:

“Ms. Hunter is a Prosecuting Attorney in the criminal branch of my office. Ms. Hunter’s sole responsibility is prosecuting criminal cases. She does not perform, and, to my knowledge, for over 20 years has not performed any civil legal functions for the City of Los Angeles.”

No one disputes that Hunter performs the role of a prosecuting attorney. But under SB 235, a description of a government attorney’s function within an office may no longer be the basis of a ballot designation; if reference is made to government employment, the “actual job title” must be used. Feuer has pointed to an irrelevancy—Hunter’s assignment—in his effort to assist Hunter by creating an illusion.

The city attorney adds:

“Ms. Hunter has been issued a Prosecuting Attorney’s badge that only Prosecutors in the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office are eligible to receive. When a Prosecuting Attorney leaves the Criminal Branch, the badge must be relinquished. Attorneys in the Civil Branch are not issued these badges. A picture of Ms. Hunter’s badge is attached hereto as Exhibit C.”

That argument is pathetic. Notwithstanding that under the Administrative Code Hunter is a “Deputy City Attorney,” who has proclaimed that to be her title, and the common conception is that a person in her office of like status bears that title, Feuer wants it understood that, in light of Hunter having been issued a badge emblazoned with the word, “Prosecutor,” her “actual job title” is “Prosecuting Attorney.”

Feuer is trying to flimflam.

IT IS UNDERSTANDABLE WHY Hunter wants to change her ballot designation. Her rival in the race for Los Angeles Superior Court Office No. 16, Sydne Jane Michel, has a ballot designation as “Senior Deputy City Prosecutor, City of Redondo Beach.”

That includes the word “prosecutor”—which connotes someone who seeks to bring bad guys to justice.

On the other hand, Michel serves  in a small South Bay city. Hunter is entitled, and under SB 235 is required, to state the geographical entity in she works—which is the City of Los Angeles.

It is by no means clear that an accurate description of Hunter’s position is not weightier than Michel’s given that she serves a megalopolis, in which the bulk of voters reside.

But whatever the political ramifications are, the command of the statute is accuracy. As it happens, in Redondo Beach, as in Long Beach, there is an Office of City Prosecutor, separate from the Office of City Attorney. In the City of Los Angeles, as noted, there is no such office.

Michel’s ballot designation is accurate. The designation Hunter now claims is, in light of the new statutory requirement, false and impermissible.

Michel yesterday filed a writ petition challenging the new ballot designation. That action should not have been necessary.

It was learned minutes before deadline yesterday that Hunter spitefully filed a cross-petition. She is childishly taking the stance that if Michel can call herself a ‘Prosecutor,’ she can, too. But Michel has that title, Hunter doesn’t.

IT IS ONLY OF LATE, out of political expediency, that Hunter has proclaimed her title to be “Prosecuting Attorney.”

In a Feb. 4 email to this newspaper, she said:

“I have been a Deputy City Attorney for the City of Los Angeles for over 28 years primarily working as a trial/calendar deputy in the criminal division.”

Her resume, sent Feb. 25, recites:

“Employment: 1989-Present: DEPUTY CITY ATTORNEY, LOS ANGELES CITY ATTORNEY’S OFFICE.”

Most significant is that on her Feb. 12 “Ballot Designation Worksheet,” Hunter’s “Proposed Ballot Designation” was “Deputy City Attorney,” with the blanks for “1st Alternative” and “2nd Alternative” not filled in.

Hunter knew then that she had only one “actual job title”—the one she used. If her actual title had been “Prosecuting Attorney,” she would surely have employed it as her ballot designation in the primary.

A delightful person and an accomplished lawyer, Hunter might well have been influenced by advisors into taking an unethical course in her campaign. It remains, however, that she’s the candidate, in charge of the effort, and the deceitful ploy must be ascribed to her.

The conduct reflects a lower level of integrity than is expected of a judge—or, for that matter, a lawyer.

WE DECRY THE DUPLICITY on the part of the Los Angeles city attorney and, of course, the role played by Hunter in the campaign chicanery.

Our endorsement in the primary went to Michel. We are now all the more convinced that she is the better candidate—by far the better candidate. Michel possesses dignity, intelligence, and integrity.

We reiterate our endorsements of Deputy District Attorney Alfred A. Coletta for Office No. 4 and Deputy District Attorney Tony J. Cho for Office No. 60. We note also our strong support in the run-off for Deputy District Attorney Javier Perez for Office No. 113, whom we did not back in the primary only because of the greater years of experience of the deputy DA who came in third in that race.

None of these calls is at all a close one.

This article originally appeared in the daily legal newspaper Metropolitan News-Enterprise on August 21, 2018

Copyright, 2018, Metropolitan News Company. Reprinted by permission.