Two of the four candidates in the race for the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office appeared before the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association Wednesday night and laid out their qualifications for a position that combines administrative and legal experience with public integrity and zeal.
The candidates, Greg Smith and Noel Weiss, had missed a candidates’ forum hosted by SOHA in December, in which Carmen Trutanich, the incumbent to the office, competed for people’s votes against state Assembyman Mike Feuer.
Wednesday’s candidates’ forum kicked off SOHA’s monthly community meeting at Notre Dame High School. Attended by about 100 people, the meeting concluded with a talk by Councilman Mitchell Englander on the “horrendous” condition of Los Angeles’ streets and what can be done to fix them.
The forum began with an introduction by Smith, whose campaign website identifies him as a 25-year “veteran courtroom attorney and small business owner.”
Smith said he had lived in the San Fernando Valley until two years ago, when “my wife made me move to the Westside.” The statement instantly provoked groans from the audience. One member jokingly asked: “Are you still married?”
Evidently a staunch proponent of fighting city gangs, Smith launched an attack on Feuer, saying that his opponent in the race lacked courtroom trial experience.
“He’s never been in a courtroom in his life,” Smith said, referring to Feuer. “So who would you rather have as your attorney if you were going into trial—Mike Feuer or somebody like me?” Feuer, Smith added, was one of the voters for AB 109, the prison realignment bill that has led to the release of people convicted of nonviolent crimes in California. “He dumped 10,000 criminals back on our streets,” Smith said of Feuer.
Weiss, a real estate, corporate, and environmental law attorney in Los Angeles since 1976, according to his campaign website, started out by saying that he has been “out and about doing work for the little guy for about the last nine or 10 years,” particularly regarding land use issues.
“I’m a reform guy,” Weiss said, dramatically punctuating his speech with frequent pugilistic movements. “Anybody who likes the status-quo, I’m not your guy.”
Asked what the candidates would do if elected as L.A.’s next city attorney to uphold current land use laws and “stop the pattern of ignoring residents with legitimate concerns and catering to special interests and lobbyists,” Smith responded that “first of all, I’m the only candidate who’s not being supported by any special interests.”
He said a lot of the funding for his campaign is “actually my own money—several hundred thousand dollars” and that he would run a transparent office that would work closely with neighborhood councils.
“I am open to hearing what all the problems are in the Valley,” Smith said. “Being somebody who grew up in the Valley, I know what your issues are.”
Weiss said he upheld land use laws by helping halt a project in Sherman Oaks. Without giving details about the project—both candidates had a 45-second time limit to respond to questions—Weiss said that he had to go to court and “fight in a big way, and I fought ’em all.” The city attorney, he added, “needs to be there for you people to make sure that what happens is lawful and fair and appropriate and proper—and consistent with what we say we are for, which is social values.”
In response to another question, Weiss admitted that he lacked the experience of administrating a large law firm.
“I don’t think that disqualifies me for the job,” however, he said, adding: “This is a leadership position. You’re basically trying to maintain morale. You’re trying to set a policy. I think the key qualification for any leadership position is having a proper balance between ego and imagination. Call it hubris and humility.”
Smith said that while he did administer a law firm of 24 employees, it wasn’t a large one. “I want to tell you one thing,” he said. “Steve Cooley, one of the best prosecutors in this city, had absolutely no administrative experience before he became district attorney."
What Cooley had was experience in the courtroom. "That’s what you need—you need to know when to call the shots," Smith said. "You need to know about laws and cases and you only learn that in trial court.”