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Retiring LA County District Attorney Steve Cooley discusses career

May 23, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
For the first time since he announced he would not seek re-election, Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley is speaking out on camera. Cooley talked about his controversial decisions, his future, and who he's backing as a possible successor.

Cooley already has made history as the county's top prosecutor: He's the first the win three terms in more than 70 years in Los Angeles County. There will be no fourth term.

"I will have had 39 years and 10 months of public service," said Cooley. "That doesn't even count the seven years I spent as an L.A. police officer working reserve, patrol, Newton Street Division. I've sort of done my thing."

At one time Cooley said two terms should be enough for any prosecutor. But when the election rolled around three years ago, he changed his mind.

"There was more to do. And also, the lineup of candidates in 2008 was somewhere between ugly and uglier," said Cooley.

Cooley has endorsed his number two prosecutor, Jacquelyn Lacey, to take his job. So far all the other would-be district attorneys come from inside his office -- except possibly one -- six of them in all.

However, L.A. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich has formed a committee to raise money if he decides to move into the D.A.'s office. Trutanich once promised to fulfill his entire term as city attorney. Cooley thinks any change of that commitment is wrong.

"I took him at his word and I think something like that is too important a commitment to be just a campaign ploy or something that is, quote-unquote, 'Just politics,'" said Cooley.

Cooley thinks one of his greatest legacies will be working to give courts and prosecutors some discretion in the "three-strikes" law.

"My thoughtful policy has probably been the greatest protector of the three-strikes statutory law, more than anybody else," said Cooley.

Cooley will remain the county's top prosecutor for another 18 months. After that he says he knows he'll have options, but will it be politics? For that he says, "Never say never."

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