One-on-One with Carmen Trutanich

by Tony Medley

I met Carmen ďNuchĒ Trutanich, a candidate for Los Angeles City Attorney, at his Studio City campaign headquarters on Ventura Boulevard. He was born in San Pedro on August 12, 1951, received his Masterís Degree from USC and his JD from South Bay Law School.

TONY        Tell me how you decided to become a lawyer.

CARMEN     After I got my Masterís Degree, I went to work for Star Kist foods in their procurement department with my uncle. He ultimately died on The Great Barrier Reef in New Zealand. I was working with him, negotiating fishing contracts and doing International Procurement of fishing rights for Star Kist. He told me I had to get background in law for the job. So I enrolled in Night School and I liked it!

TONY        What Law School?

CARMEN     South Bay University. I just took 2-3 classes a semester at night from 6-10 during the week. Iíd study on the planes going to and fro and on the weekends. I took an internship with the District Attorneyís office and got to try some cases as a Certified Law Student. I had a great time.

TONY        You could try cases when you werenít a member of the Bar?

CARMEN     Yes, as long as you try them under the supervision of a lawyer and youíre certified from an ABA-accredited school. I enjoyed it. I said, "this is what I really want to do." I donít want to be a businessman. My wife and I were poor. She was making $1100 a month as a flight attendant and I was making nothing, $200 a week as a watchman at the Star Kist cannery. Iíd work 24-hour shifts. My wife and I got married on March 11, 1978 and had our very first child December 14, 1978, nine months and three days after the day of our marriage! So I took the Bar Exam and passed it and opened an office. I didnít even know a lawyer. I didnít know what a lawyer did. I got my Sears Selectric typewriter that I had on my desk in my apartment, rented an office on 9th Street in San Pedro, moved my desk out of my apartment and opened a law office. I got a few clients and got appointed by a few judges down there that I had met and started making some money.

TONY        How did you end up with the D.A.?

CARMEN     We did pretty well. We bought a house, but we were house poor. My business was doing well, but I didnít have the confidence in my abilities. I knew Iíd be a good lawyer if I had the opportunity to really get good. Iím working 20 hours a day. I used to get up at 3 a.m. to do research and not come home until 11-12 oíclock at night. I canít work any harder, so I applied to the District Attorneyís office. I just applied; I didnít know anybody. I got through the first interview, got asked back and then got asked back again for an interview with (District Attorney) John Van de Kamp and got hired. I had built up my practice to where I was making $80,000 a year. When I go to the DAís office, Iím going to make $17,000 a year. My first pay check was $434 for two weeks of work.

TONY        Your wife didnít object to going from $80,000 a year to $17,000?

CARMEN     I married a saint. She knew it was the best thing for me career-wise.

TONY        How long were you there?

CARMEN     Eight years, then in 1988 I went out on my own with a big firm, Bronson, Bronson, & McKenna as a litigator. After a year one of the partners asked if I wanted to break away and start our own firm. I said yes. He ran the San Francisco office and I ran the L.A. office. We went to about 25 lawyers. Then my partner, Rex Scatena, was one of the founders of ValueAmerica.com. He took it public and made something like $800 million in one day. He and I were good friends. We were like brothers. He was a decent guy. So when he left, it was time for me to start my own firm, so I left my own firm.

TONY        Why?

CARMEN     It just created a different feel to the firm, him not being there. Rex was always my buffer with the other partners. So when Rex left, I left. I built the new firm up from two lawyers to 18 lawyers now.

TONY        Why would you want to leave that for politics?

CARMEN     In 2006, I got a call from Rocky (Delgadillo, current LA City Attorney) to help him in his transition because his chief deputy had left the office, retired. I left private practice to come and help him. I stayed about four months. I had an opportunity to see the office. I had the opportunity to forge a relationship with (LA District Attorney) Steve Cooley and (LA County Sheriff) Lee Baca. When I went back into private practice I kept up my relationships with Steve and Lee. In September of 2007, I got a call from Steve saying, ďLos Angeles needs a champion.Ē I reached in my pocket and pulled out my checkbook and say, ďOK, How much is this champion going to cost me?Ē

                He said, ďNo. We want you to run for City Attorney. We want someone there who is competent and honest and will do a good job.Ē What do you do when the Sheriff and the DA of LA County put that mano pesado (heavy hand) on you?

TONY        Did you know you were going to be hit with all this dirt thatís been thrown at you by your opponent Jack Weiss? Itís the dirtiest campaign Iíve ever seen.

CARMEN     What do you expect? Jack Weiss has Ace Smith running his campaign. Smith (a Clinton advisor who has been compared with the fictional cinematic godfather, Michael Corleone, who was pictured as a cold-blooded murderer) is the guy who called Barack Obama a Muslim. They can say whatever they want to say. Iím real comfortable putting my head down and going to sleep. I know what I do and Iím very proud of what I do. Iím a good lawyer.

TONY        Youíve been throwing the dirt back, too.

CARMEN     What Iím throwing is not dirt. Itís his record. Thereís a difference. Heís distorting and making things up. For example, the big allegation from him is, ďYou represent the NRA.Ē  Iíve never represented the NRA. One of my partners has the NRA as a client. Youíve never seen my name on a pleading for the NRA. Youíve never seen Carmen Trutanich appearing for the NRA. Never happened. But thatís what youíre hearing. Heís stretching the truth.

                Another one of his attacks is ďheís representing polluters.Ē I represent a mom and pop cleaning shop that gets in trouble with some of the local ordinances. He claims they are the worst polluters in Los Angeles. Thatís ridiculous! Itís almost asinine to say that. It shows the level of his intelligence. First of all, the worst polluter in LA is the City of Los Angeles, Ballona Creek, the DWP; the Port of Los Angeles. How about Mobil? There are tons of companies that are the major polluters in Los Angeles. They arenít on my client list. But itís a distortion. Itís smear and fear because he doesnít have a record.

TONY        Where are you on gun control?

CARMEN     The law provides that people can carry guns, but it also leaves it to the discretion of the sheriff or chief of police in that city to make a decision as to what they want to do. Thatís in their discretion. Thatís something that would not be in my purview as City Attorney. If you donít agree with the exercise of their discretion, you have the right to bring a lawsuit. But I donít think itís the obligation of the City Attorney to determine whether or not he has abused his discretion.

TONY        Is the Mayor behind you?

CARMEN     (pause) Do I sound like someone who would have the Mayor behind him? (laughs)

TONY        If you had known how dirty the campaign was going to be, would you have gotten into it?

CARMEN     Itís not dirty.

TONY        I think itís the dirtiest campaign Iíve ever seen. Weiss has made it dirty.

CARMEN     Yes, but Iím not afraid of Jack Weiss.

TONY        But how has it affected your family?

CARMEN     My family knows me. Iím a decent guy. They know that. Theyíve had 31 years of being around me. Walk down to San Pedro and ask people about me. Ask them what they think of Jack Weiss and his commercials. Half that town I donít know. But the other half knows me and they spread the word. Jack Weiss couldnít sully my reputation if he had a million commercials. At the end of the day, I am who I am and the minute people meet me, they can size me up. They know Iím a straight shooter. Iím an honest guy. I speak my mind. I try to be as articulate as I can. Screw Ace Smith and Jack Weiss if they want to tell lies. I donít care about them. I care about the people of Los Angeles. Theyíre smarter than those two guys. This is their smear and fear because they have nothing else to say. So all they can do is scare you. That tells you who they are.