Sunday, April 24, 2011

Trutanich's Turbid Ties to Lobbyist Surface In LA Weekly Report

The LA Weekly mentions City Attorney Carmen 'the Clown' Trutanich no less than 11 times in it's article "How Lobbyist John Ek Gets His Way at City Hall," published on April 21, 2011.

But Trutanich isn't mentioned as taking an "aggressive stance" against lobbyist John Ek's efforts to allow his client, HMS Host, to hold on to its concessions at Los Angeles Airport where LA Weekly says HMS Host has given LAX a reputation for "lousy food."

Few would disagree that food concessions at LAX are 'lousy,' add 'expensive' and 'surly' to a long list of complaints about HMS Host too.

But far from defending traveller's rights, Trutanich seems to be on the side of Ek's client here, and LA Weekly unveils a long and tangled series of dealings between Trutanich and Ek which might explain why Trutanich was so willing to take sides with Ek and HMS Host.

LA Weekly reveals that both Trutanich and Ek are part of San Pedro's power-broker community. No real surprise then, that during Mayor Jim Hahn's administration, Ek's lobbying activities came under investigation when, according to Gene Maddaus at the LA Weekly, one of Ek's airport clients, URS, "complained to investigators that he had urged them to donate to Hahn's anti-secession campaign. This was supposedly done at the behest of Hahn's appointee to the Airport Commission, and Ek allegedly warned of the consequences of not contributing." Maddaus said.

Maddaus reports that Ek denied the pay-to-play allegation, but was nevertheless "called as a witness before the grand jury, and sought counsel from a well-known local defense attorney — Carmen Trutanich, now L.A. city attorney. Ek was never charged." Said Maddaus.

Trutanich's ties to Ek did not end there. Two weeks before Trutanich launched his bid for City Attorney, he had a small dinner at Trani's Ristorante to discuss the campaign. Trutanich's two guests were Janice Hahn and John Ek. Since becoming City Attorney, Trutanich and Ek have continued their association. Recently, at the Dalmation-American Club fish luncheon, another of Trutanich's regular haunts, "Ek greeted Trutanich with a bear hug." Maddaus said.

So when the thorny question of whether the Airport commission should evict HMS Host, (Host placed last of four bidders for the lucrative LAX concession contract), Trutanich came to Ek and HMS Host's rescue; he declared that there was a conflict of interest.

No, not the conflict of interest that you might expect - that Trutanich and Ek enjoy a close relationship, but rather that the LAX commission president, Alan Rothenberg, had a conflict of interest;  he is on the board of California Pizza Kitchen, and CPK is part of Host's concessionaires. But rather than simply require Rothenberg to recuse himself, and let the Airport commission hear HMS Host's appeal, according to Maddaus "Trutanich decided to disqualify the entire commission. That decision changed the entire process, sending the appeal into a different arena, one more solicitous to Host. The appeal went to the council's Board of Referred Powers, an obscure panel chaired by Cardenas and featuring Hahn as a member."

The result of Trutanich's decision has been to delay the removal of HMS Host and prolong the agony of travelers; earning HMS Host far more than Ek's fees.

But wait, there's more. According to Maddaus, one of Trutanich's deputies "Kelly Martin, the city attorney assigned to LAX, wrote a response that strongly defended the airport" from accusations by HMS Host that "the bidding process was flawed and should be thrown out." In a surprise move, Trutanich re-assigned Martin to other duties, doubtless much to the relief of Ek and HMS Host.

Of course, Trutanich's decision to remove Martin probably has an explanation that might pass the straight-face test, but then again, Trutanich also has a reputation for re-assigning his deputies for questionable reasons, as in the case of deputy city attorney Tom Griego, who Trutanich transferred to the criminal division in order that Griego could call himself a "criminal prosecutor" in his bid to fool voters into electing him as a Superior Court Judge.

Trutanich's dealings with Ek must surely make some wonder who the "people's lawyer" is really working for.

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