November 2, 2000
Is there a "Jewish stake" in the district attorney race between two-term incumbent Gil Garcetti and head Deputy District Attorney Steve Cooley? Maybe it comes to this: How far out of step is this community going to be?
Steve Cooley has won the endorsement of every local newspaper, plus three former district attorneys, including the esteemed John Van De Camp, and the major police organizations. He is far ahead in the recent polls. He's got the money to combat Garcetti's negative campaign ads that paint Cooley, the former San Fernando Valley chief deputy and a nationally recognized master of welfare fraud prosecution, as soft on crime and, presumably worse from the Jewish community's point of view, a Republican.
Despite this momentum, as Jewish Journal staff writer David Evanier reported, Garcetti maintains strong support from Jewish community leadership. They know him, feel comfortable with him and endorse his expanded vision of the office, including his outreach policies to women and minorities and his emphasis on crime prevention and truancy. Yet, with the Nov. 7 election staring at us, here's the obvious: unless there is a reversal of the laws of nature, Steve Cooley is going to win, because, as almost every other segment of L.A. but our community has noted, the time for change has come.
I met with the 53-year-old Cooley last stormy Sunday in his second-story back office off Riverside Drive in Burbank, where he was working quietly with his wife, Jana, a court reporter, and a supporter, Deputy District Attorney Mike Grosbard. Cooley, wearing chinos and a Valencia Country Club polo shirt, calls himself a "real prosecutor," not a politician; he doesn't flatter, play cute with ethnicity, or go for the glad hand. Compared with Garcetti's silver-haired glamour, Cooley is a dull coin.
"The office is in trouble," says the 27-year veteran prosecutor and former police officer. "We've got to restore the integrity to the office and the sense of mission," Cooley says.
Garcetti squeaked to victory four years ago against the underfunded John Lynch after the O.J. Simpson disaster. Since then, the issues have mounted: overzealous three-strikes enforcement, Ramparts abuses, helping the grandchild of a donor. That Cooley is, as expected, a straight arrow may be part of his appeal."There's something desperately wrong with the department," Marsh Goldstein, a retired, 35-year-veteran of the DA's office, tells me. The district attorney's office, he adds, is about one-third Jewish.
"The district attorney has to set an example. Garcetti can be charming. But I don't want him administering the office that I love," Goldstein says.
The prosecutor is the linchpin of the criminal system, standing between the police and the judiciary. The office must file fair cases and win using fair evidence. That's why the Rampart crises is the district attorney's problem, not only that of the LAPD. The district attorney is obligated to turn over evidence to the defense that the testifying officer has prior conduct or credibility problems. Garcetti's office has been accused of withholding information, something he blames on lack of a central database. But the fact that Garcetti disbanded the special "roll-out" unit created by Van DeKamp to investigate officer abuses has caused widespread concern.
"We call it 'clientism,'" says Mike Grosbard, an 13-year veteran of the department, whose first legal post was in the federal office in charge of Nazi-hunting. "The DA thinks he has to maintain good relationships with the police department." Garcetti has been called the "flypaper DA." Perhaps unfairly, everything wrong with L.A. justice sticks to him. But the public is demanding accountability, and it's not wrong.Take three strikes. It's a disastrous law, made worse by Garcetti's policies that have led to life sentences for minor offenses.
"It's not a matter of being hard or soft on crime," says Cooley. "The DA's policy lacks proportionality. The policy lacks an ethical core."
During our talk, Cooley takes out a 1964 newspaper profile of Evelle Younger, titled "A New Kind of DA." Younger is the standard for Cooley. He gives him his highest compliment, calling him "real." During the Younger era, the L.A. district attorney's office was the finest in the nation, where the best people were assigned to a case and were left free to use their judgment. This, says Cooley, is what "real prosecutors do."There's a time for everything. Remember, Evelle Younger (who was a judge before being elected district attorney and then went on to attorney general) served only two terms.
Marlene Adler Marks will discuss "The Family Journey: The Book of Genesis and the Story of Our Lives" at the Skirball Cultural Center on Saturdays beginning Nov. 11 at 2 p.m. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org