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LA City Attorney
Think of the city attorney as the head of a really, really big law firm representing L.A. as its client.

What does L.A.’s city attorney do?

On the one hand, you can think of the city attorney as the head of a law firm representing the L.A. city government as its client. The city attorney runs an office of more than 500 lawyers representing L.A. in all legal matters, including filing lawsuits and defending against them. And L.A. is involved in a lot of lawsuits, whether it’s suing the federal government to defend sanctuary city policies, suing businesses for fraud and price gouging schemes, or being sued over fatal police shootings, sexual harassment cases or lack of sidewalk repairs.

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The city attorney is also a prosecutor for misdemeanors committed in L.A. — think public nuisances, petty shoplifting, vandalism and the like. (Felonies are handled by the county district attorney, as are any type of crime committed in unincorporated parts of L.A. County.) Even if they’re not in court often themselves, they set policies on how to treat certain types of misdemeanor crimes. This also means the city attorney can choose which cases not to prosecute and which to refer to diversion programs (in which defendants can avoid trial and potential jail time by doing certain programs like drug treatment or therapy) instead.

When the City Council proposes a law, the city attorney actually writes the law. They also counsel city departments, agencies and officials on legal issues, like how to interpret court rulings or the city charter. How do we select an interim mayor if the sitting mayor leaves office early? In what cases should body cam footage of LAPD arrests be made public? The city attorney gets to advise on these kinds of questions behind the scenes, and their opinion can hold a lot of weight.

Not every city attorney is elected — in many smaller cities, it’s an appointed position. But in L.A., voters elect their city attorney (the position is limited to two four-year terms), who is expected to serve the public interest. L.A.’s city attorney can decide what lawsuits are in the community’s interest to pursue. They can make crucial interpretations of ambiguous laws. They can take a stand when there are policy disagreements with other elected officials. Because the public’s interest doesn’t always align with City Hall’s interests, this can be a tricky dance. That’s the kind of savvy this job requires.

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A city attorney can create lasting precedents through the cases they pursue and how they argue them.

In the 1980s, city attorney James Hahn, who later became mayor, pioneered the use of gang injunctions, which are court orders that prohibit gang members from doing things like staying out past a certain hour at night, wearing clothes with gang colors, or assembling in large groups. The idea was that breaking up low-level gang activity could prevent more serious crimes. But these injunctions were often applied so broadly that in many cases, people who were not gang members would get hit with an injunction without having the means to fight it in court. Civil liberties groups have long argued that gang injunctions profile communities of color and overcriminalize youth, but L.A. city attorneys since Hahn have generally supported the practice as a way to reduce gang-related crime. Courts ordered L.A. to restrict its use of gang injunctions in 2020, but they’re still in use.

What’s on the agenda for the next term?

It’s impossible to say anything specific at this stage. So much of this depends on who we elect, what their priorities are, who else is elected for offices like city council or mayor, and what kind of legal conundrums the L.A. city government finds itself in. City attorneys have to react to the cases that land on their desk.

However, the next city attorney will have to contend with the loss of public trust in the office stemming from its scandal with the L.A. Department of Water and Power (LADWP). In that case, a lawyer working for the city attorney’s office secretly represented both sides in a lawsuit over LADWP incorrectly billing customers in 2013. That lawsuit resulted in a $67 million settlement with the city, with $10 million of that money going to at least two attorneys who were involved in orchestrating the cover-up. kickbacks paid to those involved in the cover-up. Investigations are still ongoing to root out how many others might have known or collaborated in the scheme.

Where do city attorneys go from here?

This is a powerful office that generally leads to other powerful offices. Former city attorney Ira Reiner went on to become L.A. district attorney, while his successor James Hahn became mayor after his term as city attorney was up. Current city attorney Mike Feuer is making his bid for mayor in 2022 as well.

What can I consider in a candidate?
  • If you’re unsure what to consider as you decide who to vote for, here are some qualities that experts say are important for this role.

    • Political skill. What if the mayor and city council disagree on a legal matter? What if City Hall clashes with public opinion on a major issue? The city attorney can find themselves caught in the middle of all kinds of conflicts of interest, and they’ll need to be able to plan for and navigate all the different ramifications their actions could have.
    • Ability to operate in City Hall. A city attorney has to be part of City Hall’s day-to-day operations and inner machinery, said Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute at Cal State LA. “[While] the city attorney can roam and do all kinds of stuff in the community, if that’s all they do, they’re not going to be a very good city attorney.” 
    • Legal and management experience. The city attorney is essentially the head of a very, very big law firm. Fernando Guerra, professor of political science at Loyola Marymount University, says he would consider a candidate’s “experience as a lawyer representing government entities, experience running large institutions, and experience in conflict resolution.” 

More reading

A Multitasking City Attorney (LA Times): A 2013 editorial exploring the city attorney’s role in more depth and explaining why it’s difficult to evaluate success

Who we spoke to for this piece:

  • Raphael Sonenshein, Executive Director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs, Cal State LA
  • Fernando Guerra, Professor of Political Science and Chicana/o Studies, Loyola Marymount University

Seven people are running to be L.A.’s city attorney in the June 2022 primary. It’s an open seat because current City Attorney Mike Feuer is termed out and is running for mayor of Los Angeles. The race has been a fairly open contest so far – Hydee Feldstein Soto, Marina Torres, Teddy Kapur, Faisal Gill and Kevin James have each raised $200,000 or more in campaign contributions.

How Local Primaries Work
  • If any one candidate receives more than 50% of the vote in the June primary, they will win the office outright. Otherwise, the two candidates who receive the most votes will advance to the November runoff.

The outcome of this race will be a historic first for representation, whoever wins. Of the candidates, three are Asian American, one is Black, three are women, one is Muslim, and one is openly gay — backgrounds that have never been represented among L.A.’s previous city attorneys.

Here are basics on all the candidates’ backgrounds and stances on specific issues, sourced from their campaign websites, public statements, local news coverage and three recorded candidate forums, which you can watch in full below:


Sherri Onica Valle Cole

Attorney/Educator

Cole is a lawyer who’s been focusing on personal injury defense for the past four years. She previously spent 16 years in the L.A. city attorney’s office, but was fired in 2018. She calls herself “incorruptible,” and said in the April 20 forum she was let go from the city attorney’s office after she “stood up to [current city attorney] Mike Feuer in writing and told him I believed that what he was doing was wrong,” referencing the LADWP scandal. However, she was quoted in a 2018 Metropolitan News-Enterprise article saying the firing was over a workers’ compensation claim, while the city attorney’s office had said it was because of insubordination and altering a medical report from her doctor’s office.

Cole ran twice for L.A. Superior Court judge but was unsuccessful both times. She says her long experience in the city attorney’s office gives her an advantage in understanding how the department is run, and that her experience both as a prosecutor and defense attorney in many different types of cases has given her a leg up in experience and well-roundedness. She also says she can bring compassion to the role of city attorney as someone with lived experience with homelessness and domestic violence.

On criminal justice: Cole said in the March 30 forum she would prioritize prosecution of sexual battery and domestic violence, having been a victim of both. But she would also deprioritize cases of driving without a license or driving with a suspended license, which she says disproportionately affect immigrant communities, as well as loitering for prostitution, saying that Black women are “overly prosecuted” under that law and that she would rather focus on human traffickers. She says she would also decline to prosecute cases of failing to appear in court and marijuana offenses.

Cole also wants to eliminate L.A.’s ACE program, which fines people experiencing homelessness for violating certain local laws rather than arresting them. “Homeless people don’t have time or money to be paying for citations,” she said at the April 20 forum.

On holding the L.A. Police Department accountable: Cole vows to prosecute any LAPD officer who violates the law or department policy, and would refuse to provide legal defense to any officer in cases where she believes they violated policy or others’ civil rights. She notes that she is married to a retired LAPD officer who had been in the department for 33 years, does not believe in defunding the police, and has had a “strong working relationship” with law enforcement. But she says that her experience as a Black person and her desire to protect her Black son have strongly motivated her to abolish excessive force within the LAPD.

On homelessness and housing: Cole says she experienced homelessness in her youth. She also says that she wants to get people with mental health issues or substance abuse problems out of the criminal justice system and into treatment and the workforce.

Cole also says she wants to get at the root cause of why Section 8 vouchers — federal rent subsidies for very low-income families — are being underutilized, and use the city attorney’s position to remedy the problem. But she also says housing supply is not meeting demand for any income level, so she wants to find ways to increase housing density. Cole supports a proposed ballot initiative to tax property sales above $5 million to fund housing for unhoused communities.


Hydee Feldstein Soto

Attorney/Neighborhood Councilmember

Feldstein Soto has had a long career as an attorney. She was a partner at two major law firms specializing in commercial finance and bankruptcy litigation, and briefly served as general counsel for entertainment company Kin Community. She grew up in Puerto Rico, but has lived in Los Angeles for the past 40 years and has been deeply involved in the Neighborhood Council system.

Feldstein Soto said that she does not see the city attorney’s role as that of a policymaker, meaning that she will abide by local and state law as closely as possible and not use the office’s powers to try to change policy. She also says she is not interested in starting a political career and pledges not to use this role as a stepping stone to higher office.

On criminal justice: Her office would impose consequences on all crimes, regardless of the circumstances or who committed them. “It doesn’t matter that the property stolen was worth $9, $90, or $900. That all falls under a misdemeanor,” she said at the January 6 forum. But she says that doesn’t mean incarceration is always the necessary punishment — diversion programs, community service and job training are also interventions that she says would be appropriate.

Even though the city attorney can choose to decline to prosecute certain cases, Feldstein Soto says she would not do that for any broad category of crimes because that would be a policy move. However, she says she would collect data and refrain from prosecution in cases where enforcing the law has a disparate impact on communities of color. “We ought to scrub our penal code,” she said in a December 2021 interview. “We ought to make sure we only have laws on there that are a) constitutionally enforceable, and b) that we really intend to enforce equally.”

On holding the L.A. Police Department accountable: Feldstein Soto says she expects to work closely with the LAPD, given that as city attorney “you are the lawyer for the department.” She also pointed out that although L.A. needs to deal with police misconduct and excess uses of force, there are several law enforcement agencies that operate within L.A. city (including the California Highway Patrol, Sheriff’s Department, school police and more) and that she “[doesn’t] like tarring our LAPD necessarily with the misconduct of every officer in uniform across the country.”

On homelessness and housing: Homelessness would be her top priority if elected, Feldstein Soto says, and she would focus on how to expedite housing production rather than just litigating homelessness. She says there are four areas the city attorney can get involved in: Finding a more updated financing structure for new housing production, enforcing more competitive bidding procedures, creating a more streamlined process whereby housing development plans can be presented through one office that would reach multiple departments, and finding funds for mental health services apart from the county.

“And at the end of the day, we need to enforce,” she said at a Jan. 6 debate. “We can’t criminalize poverty or homelessness, but neither can we normalize criminal behavior. No one has the right to privatize our public spaces for their own use.”

Feldstein Soto also doesn’t support upzoning — changing zoning codes to allow for more housing to be built in a given area — as a solution to housing affordability. “I view it as irresponsible to toss the issue of affordable housing, and a safety net to create workforce housing, into the hands of private developers,” she said.

More resources:


Faisal M. Gill

Civil Rights Attorney

Gill is a criminal defense and civil rights lawyer who’s made homelessness and LAPD accountability the centerpieces of his campaign. He previously worked as a senior policy adviser at the Department of Homeland Security in the George W. Bush administration. He’s made two unsuccessful runs for office before: in 2007, he ran as a Republican for the Virginia House of Delegates, and ran as a Democrat in 2016 for the Vermont State Senate. He also briefly served as chair of the Vermont Democratic Party.

Gill has said he views the city attorney as a policy office, with the power to make decisions like whether to prosecute protesters or get rid of cash bail in the misdemeanor system.

On criminal justice: Gill says the misdemeanor system is broken and disproportionately targets communities of color. He pledges to significantly reduce prosecutions of crimes that he says do not affect public safety, including loitering, public drunkenness and trespassing. For other crimes, he says he wants to focus on a restorative justice model and pre-plea diversion programs. However, he said at the March 30 forum he does not want to “misuse diversion programs” and apply them to cases where charges should be dropped, since those programs cost money.

On holding the L.A. Police Department accountable: Gill said at the April 20 forum that he would strike a “fair but balanced” relationship with LAPD, and would hold officers accountable if they commit misconduct but defend those who are wrongfully accused of violations. He says the current city attorney’s office has too often acted as a “rubber stamp” for LAPD, which leads to lawsuits and costly legal settlements. He also highlights a case where he fought the L.A. city attorney’s office in court to have LAPD release body camera footage of the arrest of a Black music producer who says he was racially profiled.

On homelessness and housing: Gill said he “would not prosecute somebody simply for being houseless.” He says laws like 41.18, the controversial ordinance better known as the anti-camping law that prohibits people from camping near schools, daycares, parks and other public spaces, is “immoral.” He would not prosecute unhoused people under 41.18 or for other crimes related to not having a place to live, such as vandalism, trespassing or failing to appear in court. That would, in turn, pressure the mayor and city council to come up with alternative solutions to homelessness than criminalization, he says.

Gill also pledges to enforce SB 9 and SB 10, state laws that allow for more housing density in California cities. Additionally, he says he would strengthen enforcement of L.A.’s Home Sharing Ordinance, which sets regulations for short-term rentals like Airbnb, saying that the proliferation of short-term rentals in L.A. has exacerbated the housing crisis.

More resources:


Kevin James

Attorney-At-Law

James is a longtime attorney who has worked in private firms Lavely and Singer as well as Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, and as a federal prosecutor in L.A. in the early 1990s. He is openly gay and previously sat on the board of the AIDS Project in Los Angeles, serving two terms as chair. In 2013, he ran for mayor of Los Angeles, but failed to make it past the primary. Shortly after, he was appointed to the board of the Department of Public Works, where he served as president for seven years. He also served as Mayor Eric Garcetti’s chief of legislative affairs and director of the mayor’s Office of Film and Television Production.

James was a registered Republican at the time he ran for L.A. mayor, and spent several years as a conservative talk radio host in the early and mid-2000s. In the years since, he has switched his affiliation to Democrat and changed his stances on a number of issues.

On criminal justice: James said at the Jan. 6 forum he would direct the L.A. Police Department to report back on every citation and offense that officers see in the public, and then the city attorney’s office can decide — ”collectively and with the victims” — whether to bring charges in those cases. In the meantime, he says having data on those offenses will be useful to detect patterns or hotspots of crime. James also said at the March 30 forum that every misdemeanor, except DUIs, domestic violence, or hate crimes, should be subject to diversion programs.

He also proposes a “Diversion to Jobs Pipeline” program that would create partnerships with trade schools, labor unions and businesses to allow anyone who completes a diversion program to not just earn a certificate, but immediately begin job training and get a union card.

On holding the L.A. Police Department accountable: De-escalation training, data and equipment are key elements to holding police officers accountable, James says. He also noted at the March 30 debate that the city attorney represents all city departments, including the LAPD, and “the best way to do that is through a relationship based on trust and mutual respect.”

On homelessness: James says the city attorney is L.A.’s “most important role” when it comes to homelessness because it can take cases all the way to a court ruling, which affects how cities across the region, not just Los Angeles, must act when it comes to homelessness. If elected, he says he would keep existing litigation over homelessness in court until it reaches a ruling, rather than settling out of court. “When we settle one of these cases, we’re tying our hands and creating these jigsaw [pieces] that don’t fit together on the way that our neighbors are handling the public right-of-way versus the way that we do,” he said at the Jan. 6 debate.

James also says he would provide stronger enforcement of L.A.’s Home Sharing Ordinance, which sets regulations for short-term rentals like Airbnb. He also says L.A. needs to build public housing again in order to expand housing affordability, and that the city attorney can work with departments on a review of existing processes and bureaucracy to find ways to simplify and streamline permitting and zoning issues.

More resources:


Teddy Kapur

Attorney/Business owner/Teacher

Kapur is a partner at private law firm Pachulski Stang Ziehl & Jones, specializing in corporate restructuring and bankruptcy. He’s also the chair of the board of Imagine LA, a nonprofit that mentors formerly unhoused families, and serves as Treasurer for the California Democratic Party.

On criminal justice: Kapur says he’s sympathetic to the fear that people have over public safety and the demoralization that has led to businesses leaving L.A. “We need to certainly understand and prosecute these cases and be told of those cases so we can have them reported to make sure that everyone feels safer,” he said at the Jan. 6 forum.

On holding the L.A. Police Department accountable: Kapur says transparency is important, and that the city attorney needs to shine a light on police misconduct and not allow officers to move out of state or become officers elsewhere if they violate laws. He cites a state bill passed in 2021 as an “important” new law that revokes an officer’s ability to continue serving on police forces if they’ve committed an egregious violation. “But in doing so we have to make sure we have good communication with police officers and with police themselves to make sure they’re following the new rules,” he said at the March 30 forum.

On homelessness and housing: As city attorney, he would advise the mayor and city council to declare a state of emergency on homelessness and demand more resources from county, state and federal governments, Kapur says. He also says he would work to expedite permit approvals and short-term solutions to get people housed, enforce legal contracts that require housing units to be affordable, and work to end wage theft in L.A. Kapur says the city attorney must lead to find “creative solutions” to housing for unhoused communities, especially as their needs vary — the type of housing and services that an emancipated foster youth might need, for example, will be different from what someone with severe mental illness needs. He also advocates for holding the county government more accountable to providing help with mental health and drug treatment.

More resources:


Richard Kim

Deputy City Attorney

Kim currently serves in the L.A. City Attorney’s office, where he has worked for 20 years. He identifies as a moderate Democrat, and says one of his top priorities as city attorney would be to create an anti-corruption unit within the office. He has been vocal about his opposition to L.A. District Attorney Geoge Gascón, accusing Gascón of refusing to prosecute crimes. Kim publicly signed the petition to recall him from office.

On criminal justice: Kim supports the “broken windows” theory of policing, under which low-level offenses like vandalism or loitering are vigorously prosecuted as a way to deter more serious crimes. He says that these types of crimes have been deprioritized by current leadership and he would prosecute these types of crimes more. Kim also supports the Neighborhood Prosecutor Program, which embeds prosecutors in communities across L.A. to be local points of contact to report crimes and other neighborhood concerns. He says if elected, he would double the current number of neighborhood prosecutors.

On holding the L.A. Police Department accountable: Kim advocates for more LAPD funding, and says on his campaign website that while he would not tolerate police misconduct he “will not treat the LAPD as the enemy of the people.”

On housing and homelessness: L.A. leaders “threw the doors open to permit unchecked homeless encampments in Los Angeles,” Kim writes on his campaign website. He says if elected, he would dedicate a task force to advising City Hall on how to dismantle hundreds of encampments under 41.18, the city ordinance that prohibits sleeping, lying or camping near parks, schools, daycares and other areas. He also says he would demand the City Council to amend that ordinance to extend to areas near subway stations and bus stops.

Kim also says he would suspend any city agreements to build permanent supportive housing projects for unhoused communities, calling them a “hugely costly mistake” where funding would be better spent on transitional, short-term housing.

He supports L.A.’s rent control ordinance but opposes a proposal under City Council consideration to prohibit landlords from rejecting tenants based on their criminal backgrounds.

Website: richardkimforcityattorney.com
Campaign finance: Contributions via L.A. Ethics Commission
Endorsements: No endorsements on website, one post cites The Korea Daily


Marina Torres

Federal Corruption Prosecutor

Torres was most recently a federal prosecutor who worked in large private law firms and served in the Obama administration, advising on immigration policy. She’s the child of formerly undocumented immigrants from Mexico, and has a brother who was charged in the criminal justice system, which she says has given her empathy in criminal justice issues rather than a purely prosecutorial approach.

On criminal justice: Enforcement “needs to absolutely be a priority of the next city attorney’s office,” Torres said at the Jan. 6 forum, adding that her background as a prosecutor means she will be aggressive about taking public safety-related issues to court. However, she also says she would strongly consider deprioritizing or declining to prosecute sex work, street vending, and first-time youthful offenders.

On holding the L.A. Police Department accountable: Torres says public safety in L.A. requires better quality policing, not fewer police or defunding the LAPD. She says as a federal prosecutor she’s had close working relationships with law enforcement at the local, state and federal levels, which would put her in a strong position to push for better de-escalation training for officers. She also pointed out at the April 20 forum that that many of LAPD’s legal settlements are over issues like sexual harassment, retaliation and other personnel issues, and that focusing more on those will enhance public safety and reduce the number of settlements.

On homelessness and housing: Torres said that L.A. has “more than enough shelter options right now.” Hotels and motels, campgrounds and short-term shelters could all be utilized to house people immediately, but political leaders haven’t had the courage to act, she said. She also says elected officials have not addressed mental health or substance abuse problems nearly enough in their approach to homelessness, and that building more housing alone isn’t enough of a solution to a complex problem.

Having strong partnerships within City Hall can help create innovative solutions, Torres says, but after that enforcement is also a necessity. “It’s not the city that we all deserve to live in where you have homeless encampments right next to schools or rampant drug use right next to your work,” she said.

Torres also says as city attorney she would help increase renter protections, prosecute unfair evictions, and bring stronger enforcement to L.A.’s Home Sharing Ordinance, which regulates short-term rentals like Airbnb.

More resources:

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