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City attorney Trutanich gets tough on protests

February 14, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
L.A. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich is getting tough on groups that protest in the streets illegally. He's filing criminal charges. Trutanich has changed the longstanding policy of leniency toward protesters.

Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich isn't backing down on his decision to criminally prosecute some protesters.

At the L.A. County Superior Court of California Building, more than two dozen protesters compared themselves to Egyptians seeking justice. They accused Trutanich of trying to criminalize dissent.

In a rare interview, Trutanich admits that in the past prosecutors tended to reduce misdemeanor charges for protesters to infractions.

"Your right to protest ends at the tip of my toes and the tip of my nose," said Trutanich. "It does not give you the absolute freedom to interrupt the lives of the people in L.A."

A pre-trial hearing for people arrested while protesting Arizona's immigration law was put off Monday. Those protesters say they are being unfairly targeted by Trutanich.

"We are students, teachers, parents and others who have dedicated ourselves to social justice. I'm a mother of two," said accused protester Paulina Gonzalez.

Trutanich refers to a protest on Westwood Blvd. which, he says, blocked traffic to UCLA Medical Center. He has barred plea negotiations with people arrested in demonstrations.

"I'm not punishing your issue, because I'm not the content police," said Trutanich.

"Mr. Trutanich, for reasons of his own political posturing, has disrespected that great American tradition," said defense attorney John Raphline.

Trutanich says he's not trying to quiet dissent, just the disruption to other people's lives it might cause.

"It's not about what you say, it's what you do that we're looking at. The congestion that was caused, the inconvenience to lives that were caused, not your message," said Trutanich.

Trutanich likes to try to keep it simple. He says when he first became city attorney there were protesters who blocked traffic and affected the lives of others. He had to make a choice, he says: prosecute or let them go. He's decided to prosecute.