Legal Ethics

California State Bar investigating former Los Angeles city attorney

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State Bar of California

Updated: The State Bar of California has filed discipline charges against former Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The charges stem from a death penalty case Trutanich handled in 1985, well before he was elected city attorney in 2009, the State Bar of California said in a press release. Trutanich, a prosecutor in the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office at the time, is accused of withholding the real name of a witness and failing to correct false testimony in the murder prosecution of Barry Williams.

Williams’s conviction and sentence for killing Jerome Dunn were vacated, and a writ of habeas corpus granted last year, 31 years after the trial. According to the Times, the State Bar disciplinary notice says Trutanich knowingly or negligently withheld the true name of witness Arlean McKay, who was driving a car from which witness Patricia Lewis saw Williams commit the murder. On the stand, Lewis said the driver was “Jean Rivers.” Trutanich did not correct her.

Lewis lied to protect McKay, the Times says. But the State Bar says Trutanich knew it was a lie, and his notes showed both names, at one point written next to each other and in quotation marks.

Trutanich has repeatedly denied this. In the habeas case, the Times says, he told the judge that he had turned over both names to defense attorneys, and also that he never knew McKay’s real name. He told the Times in 2016 that it “never happened,” and that “I’m sure as hell not going to my grave and meeting my maker having hid information in a death penalty case.”

But in a ruling last year, District Judge David O. Carter of the Central District of California found otherwise. A March 2016 opinion says the first time the defense learned that Rivers was really McKay was in the 1990s, during state habeas proceedings. Thus, Trutanich failed to turn over material evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland, and failed to correct false testimony, which the court found “deeply troubling.”

Those actions demonstrated “moral turpitude, dishonesty or corruption,” the State Bar wrote in its disciplinary notice.

David Cameron Carr, a professional responsibility attorney at Klinedinst in Los Angeles, issued a press statement saying Trutanich denies the disciplinary charges and “looks forward to defending himself before the State Bar of California.”

Williams remains in custody, serving time for a different murder.

Under California’s attorney discipline system, the charges against Trutanich will be heard in State Bar Court, which handles attorney discipline. A hearing is set for March 13. The California Supreme Court reviews all State Bar Court convictions.

Trutanich served the city of Los Angeles for four years, but lost popularity after pursuing harsh prosecutions of people accused of minor crimes like hanging billboards illegally, LA Weekly reported at the time. According to State Bar of California records, he works for the law firm Tucker Ellis in Los Angeles.

Updated at 7:25 p.m. to add Klinedinst press statement.

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