Patt Morrison Asks

Mike Feuer, L.A. lawman

The former City Council member is back in L.A.'s civic life as the newly elected city attorney.

A dozen years after he left the Los Angeles City Council, Mike Feuer is back in L.A.'s civic life, this time in City Hall East, as the newly elected city attorney. His several careers are all of a piece: running the low-income legal service group Bet Tzedek; half a dozen years in the Assembly, where he made his mark as a forceful and adroit legislator. His wife is a judge, his two kids are Yalies — he's a Harvard Law grad — and his politics are personal.

You were elected on the same ballot that saw voters restrict marijuana dispensaries. What's the plan for enforcing that?

Last week we posted a list of dispensaries which, according to the records of the city, may be eligible for limited immunity from prosecution. The list itself does not confer any rights. We have posted frequently asked questions that will make it easier to understand the rules. We'll be moving imminently to enforce Measure D.

What's your feeling about medical marijuana?

People who are sick with cancer or other debilitating Illnesses have to have access to medical marijuana to alleviate their suffering. At the same time, there have been too many dispensaries, too close together, too close to schools, and they haven't been taxed properly.

Your office may appeal the federal courts' upholding of a ban on destroying the property of homeless people on L.A.'s skid row, a result of a lawsuit. What's your take on that?

There are elements of this litigation I see as an opportunity to solve a problem. Litigation is rather a blunt instrument and has yet to get to the underlying issues. The fact that there is litigation means there has been a failure of public policy. It's important to address homelessness in a nuanced way.

I'm committed to striking a balance that enhances conditions for homeless people, protects public safety, assures businesses can operate and improves the quality of life for all our residents. The notice of appeal preserves all our options as we strive to find that balance.

The county's responsible for many homeless matters like public health.

If you're living on skid row or have a business there, you don't care much about who's got the authority. You want authority to be exercised. Issues of cleanliness and sanitation — we're going to find a way through those. Litigation surrounding whether goods can be collected just touch the surface. There's a core legitimacy to everyone's perspective; a zero-sum approach isn't going to cut it. I have in mind bringing stakeholders here for meetings to try to find common ground, getting people who aren't listening carefully to each other to start listening carefully.

You almost became city attorney in 2001. How different are you now?

I had six years in the Legislature; I was chairman of the Judiciary Committee for four of those years. I was deeply involved in the court system, in writing laws that have an impact on the office I occupy now. I went to work for a law firm; I've had experiences that made me a better lawyer.

What things are Angelenos asking you to do?

Folks are looking for ways this office can tangibly improve the quality of life. I was at a town hall the night of the NBA finals. I assumed it would be sparsely attended. There were hundreds of people. A young man stood up, and he said, "As a man of color I don't feel safe, I don't feel I'm respected by the police." I asked if he felt safe walking to school. He said he did not.

Could I help make it safer to him to be around his school, to strengthen ties between him and his friends and the police?

In other communities, people are concerned about the enforcement of city codes, key quality-of-life issues, noise, or a property that's been foreclosed on and the lender hasn't maintained that property. This is the bull's-eye work the city attorney's office can do.

In the Legislature and City Council, you wrote laws about gun sales, trigger locks, high-capacity magazines and the like. Yet your new office only handles misdemeanors. Don't most gun violations involve felonies?

No. A criminal shooting is a felony. The laws I've written are misdemeanors, but they're significant. Take the law to ban high-capacity magazines or limiting handgun sales to one a month. Enforcement of those laws is a facet of what we can do [at the state and local level].

Had enforcement fallen by the wayside?

Rather than critiquing what happened before, I want to emphasize the now, focus on the areas where problems are most acute, because I don't have enough resources to focus on everything all at once. If that means assuring that we bring our nuisance abatement efforts to bear near a school site, if that means focusing on areas of town that are pervaded with gun violence, that's what we can do. There are civil litigation approaches we can take. There are new laws we can promote. All these are areas where the city attorney can add value on the violence issues.





Look for this special section in your
Baltimore Sun newspaper on Dec. 29, 2013.
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