One-on-One with Carmen “Nuch” Trutanich
I met Carmen “Nuch” Trutanich, a candidate for Los Angeles City Attorney, at his Studio City campaign headquarters on Ventura Boulevard. He was born in San Pedro on August 12, 1951, received his Master’s Degree from USC and his JD from South Bay Law School.
Tony: Tell me how you decided to become a lawyer.
Carmen: After I got my Master’s Degree, I went to work for Star Kist foods in their procurement department with my uncle. He ultimately died on the Great Barrier Reef in New Zealand. I was working with him, negotiating fishing contracts and doing International Procurement of fishing rights for Star Kist. He told me I had to get a background in law for the job. So I enrolled in night school and I liked it!
Tony: What law school?
Carmen: South Bay University. I just took 2-3 classes a semester at night from 6-10 during the week. I’d study on the planes going to and fro, and on the weekends. I took an internship with the District Attorney’s office, and got to try some cases as a certified law student. I had a great time.
Tony: You could try cases when you weren’t a member of the Bar?
Carmen: Yes, as long as you try them under the supervision of a lawyer, and you’re certified from an ABA-accredited school. I enjoyed it. I thought, “This is what I really want to do;” I don’t want to be a businessman. My wife and I were poor. She was making $1100 a month as a flight attendant, and I was making nothing, $200 a week as a watchman at the Star Kist cannery – I’d work 24-hour shifts. My wife and I got married on March 11, 1978, and had our very first child December 14, 1978, nine months and three days after the day of our marriage! So I took the Bar Exam and passed it, and opened an office. I didn’t even know a lawyer, and I didn’t know what a lawyer did. I got my Sears Selectric typewriter that I had on my desk in my apartment, rented an office on 9th Street in San Pedro, moved my desk out of my apartment and opened a law office. I got a few clients and was appointed by a few judges down there that I had met, and started making some money.
Tony: How did you end up with the D.A.?
Carmen: We did pretty well. We bought a house but we were house poor. My business was doing well but I didn’t have the confidence in my abilities. I knew I’d be a good lawyer if I had the opportunity to really get good. I’m working 20 hours a day. I used to get up at 3am to do research, and not come home until 11 or 12 o’clock at night. I can’t work any harder, so I applied to the District Attorney’s office. I just applied, I didn’t know anybody. I got through the first interview, got asked back and then got asked back again for an interview with (District Attorney) John Van de Kamp and got hired. I had built up my practice to where I was making $80,000 a year. Then when I got to the DA’s office, I made $17,000 a year; my first pay check was $434 for two weeks of work.
Tony: Your wife didn’t object to going from $80,000 a year to $17,000?
Carmen: I married a saint. She knew it was the best thing for me career-wise.
Tony: How long were you there?
Carmen: Eight years. Then in 1988, I went out on my own with a big firm, Bronson, Bronson, & McKenna, as a litigator. After a year, one of the partners asked if I wanted to break away and start our own firm. I said yes. He ran the San Francisco office and I ran the LA office. We went to about 25 lawyers. Then my partner, Rex Scatena, was one of the founders of ValueAmerica.com. He took it public and made something like $800 million in one day. He and I were good friends; we were like brothers. He was a decent guy. So when he left, it was time for me to start my own firm, so I left my own firm.
Carmen: It just created a different feel to the firm, him not being there. Rex was always my buffer with the other partners. So when Rex left, I left. I built the new firm up from two lawyers, to 18 lawyers now.
Tony: Why would you want to leave that for politics?
Carmen: In 2006, I got a call from Rocky (Delgadillo, current LA City Attorney) to help him in his transition because his chief deputy had left the office, retired. I left private practice to come and help him. I stayed about four months. I had an opportunity to see the office. I had the opportunity to forge a relationship with (LA District Attorney) Steve Cooley and (LA County Sheriff) Lee Baca. When I went back into private practice, I kept up my relationships with Steve and Lee. In September of 2007, I got a call from Steve saying, “Los Angeles needs a champion.” I reached in my pocket and pulled out my checkbook and say, “OK, How much is this champion going to cost me?”
He said, “No. We want you to run for City Attorney. We want someone there who is competent and honest, and will do a good job.” What do you do when the Sheriff and the DA of LA County put that mano pesado (heavy hand) on you?
Tony: Did you know you were going to be hit with all this dirt that’s been thrown at you by your opponent Jack Weiss? It’s the dirtiest campaign I’ve ever seen.
Carmen: What do you expect? Jack Weiss has Ace Smith running his campaign. Smith (a Clinton advisor who has been compared with the fictional cinematic godfather, Michael Corleone, who was pictured as a cold-blooded murderer) is the guy who called Barack Obama a Muslim. They can say whatever they want to say. I’m real comfortable putting my head down and going to sleep. I know what I do and I’m very proud of what I do. I’m a good lawyer.
Tony: You’ve been throwing the dirt back, too.
Carmen: What I’m throwing is not dirt. It’s his record and there’s a difference. He’s distorting and making things up. For example, the big allegation from him is, “You represent the NRA.” I’ve never represented the NRA. One of my partners has the NRA as a client. You’ve never seen my name on a pleading for the NRA. You’ve never seen Carmen Trutanich appearing for the NRA. Never happened. But that’s what you’re hearing. He’s stretching the truth.
Another one of his attacks is “He’s representing polluters.” I represent a mom and pop cleaning shop that gets in trouble with some of the local ordinances. He claims they are the worst polluters in Los Angeles. That’s ridiculous! It’s almost asinine to say that. It shows the level of his intelligence. First of all, the worst polluter in LA is the City of Los Angeles, Ballona Creek, the DWP; the Port of Los Angeles. How about Mobil? There are tons of companies that are the major polluters in Los Angeles. They aren’t on my client list. But it’s a distortion. It’s smear and fear because he doesn’t have a record.
Tony: Where are you on gun control?
Carmen: The law provides that people can carry guns but it also leaves it to the discretion of the sheriff or chief of police in that city to make a decision as to what they want to do; that’s in their discretion. That’s something that would not be in my purview as City Attorney. If you don’t agree with the exercise of their discretion, you have the right to bring a lawsuit. But I don’t think it’s the obligation of the City Attorney to determine whether or not he has abused his discretion.
Tony: Is the Mayor behind you?
Carmen: (Pause) Do I sound like someone who would have the Mayor behind him? (Laughs)
Tony: If you had known how dirty the campaign was going to be, would you have gotten into it?
Carmen: It’s not dirty.
Tony: I think it’s the dirtiest campaign I’ve ever seen; Weiss has made it dirty.
Carmen: Yes but I’m not afraid of Jack Weiss.
Tony: How has it affected your family?
Carmen: My family knows me – I’m a decent guy. They know that. They’ve had 31 years of being around me. Walk down to San Pedro and ask people about me. Ask them what they think of Jack Weiss and his commercials. Half that town, I don’t know, but the other half knows me and they spread the word. Jack Weiss couldn’t sully my reputation if he had a million commercials. At the end of the day, I am who I am and the minute people meet me, they can size me up. They know I’m a straight shooter. I’m an honest guy. I speak my mind. I try to be as articulate as I can. I care about the people of Los Angeles. They’re smarter than those two guys. This is their smear and fear because they have nothing else to say. So all they can do is scare you. That tells you who they are.