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State Bar Files Disciplinary Charges Against Ex-L.A. City Attorney For Alleged Misconduct In 1980s Murder Case

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Carmen Trutanich in 2010. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)
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The State Bar of California has filed disciplinary charges against former Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, amid allegations that he'd withheld information about a witness in a murder case that led to a death penalty conviction.The charges stem from a 1985 murder case that Trutanich had prosecuted against Barry Williams, a South L.A. gang member, reports the L.A. Times. At the time, Trutanich was a member of the gang unit of the L.A. County District Attorney's office. He successfully sought a death penalty against Williams, who was accused of shooting and killing a man in 1982.

In trial, eyewitness Patricia Lewis had testified saying that she saw Williams fire his gun from the driver's seat of a van, killing a man named Jerome Dunn. Lewis was in a car driven by an acquaintance she'd later refer to as “Jean Rivers." This name, as it turned out, was an alias that Lewis had used to protect the identity of her acquaintance, who didn't want her name released. The driver's real name was Arlean McKay.

The State Bar claims that Trutanich had knowingly failed to provide defense attorneys with the real name and address of McKay, or was grossly negligent. Trutanich is also charged with failing to correct false testimony by Lewis, who said in court that she did not know McKay's true name, according to City News Service.

In 2016, a U.S. District judge overturned Williams' murder conviction and death sentence, saying that Trutanich's actions had "significantly undermined the integrity" of the guilty verdict, according to an earlier Times article. The judge noted that, in Trutanich's handwritten notes from the case, both “Jean Rivers" and "Arlean McKay" were listed as the name for a second eyewitness, which may suggest that Trutanich was aware of the use of an alias.

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The judge's decision to overturn the death penalty conviction was a rare one, as there are few instances in which such a conviction has been overturned in California due to prosecutorial misconduct.

In spite of the ruling, Williams, now 54, is expected to remain in prison. He was convicted of another murder in a separate trial, and was sentenced to 34 years to life; Trutanich was a prosecutor in this case as well.

The state bar, in issuing the disciplinary charges, brought up a proposed ethics rule that requires "broad disclosure of evidence the prosecutor knows or reasonably should know would be helpful to the defense." This rule is awaiting approval by the California Supreme Court.

Laura Ernde, a spokesperson in the Office of Communications for the State Bar of California, told LAis that the filing is heading to the state bar court, where a recommendation will be made regarding Trutanich's alleged misconduct—suspension and/or disbarment are among the possibilities.

After a public hearing, the recommendation, if it stands, will be sent to the California Supreme Court for a final ruling. Ernde said that the Supreme Court "typically" sides with the state bar court's recommendation, but it's not guaranteed.

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Trutanich served as L.A. City Attorney from 2009 to 2013. He has brought up the Williams murder case before during his campaign for elected positions, touting himself as being tough on crime. The case was cited in this TV spot, for instance, which was made in 2009 for Trutanich's run for the City Attorney position.

LAist called the law firm at which Trutanich practices now, but no one was immediately available for comment.