Los Angeles: Where Even the Prosecutors Are in Show Biz

In the sort of cases covered by this site, public relations overshadow substance all too often.  For a glimpse of how even public servants — in this case the prosecutors of the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office — are keeping a constant eye on the P.R. possibilities of their cases, consider this report from former Los Angeles Times reporter-turned-blogger, Kevin Roderick (LA Observed, "Rocky’s office defines what makes news," Dec. 22):

A recent email reminded all the lawyers in City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo’s criminal branch never to talk to reporters without clearance — and how they should recognize a newsworthy legal case.  Public safety?  Important public issue at stake?  Nah, this is L.A.

Number one is any case involving a celebrity — ‘no matter how minor’ — followed closely by a politician.  Death, mutilation, child molestation or animal cruelty are also sure bets.

Terrorism shows up as the tenth item on the list, slightly behind cases representing a "major personal accomplishment for the prosecutor" and not far ahead of cases involving "a truly weird fact pattern."

Roderick reproduces the entire long e-mail — repetitiously entitled "Improving Communications with the Communications Department" — which prescribes an elaborate protocol for keeping "’primary points of contact"’ within the Communications Department" [formerly the "Press Office"] informed as cases proceed, and concludes with a reminder that it pays to plan ahead, even before bringing charges:

[I]f you have a case that is very likely to attract media attention, such
as a celebrity justice case, you may want to obtain guidance from the
Communications Department in advance of the filing, arraignment, trial,
etc. regarding how to deal with expected press inquiries.

What a wonderful phrase: "Celebrity justice."  Welcome to L.A.


  • I think you’re misinterpreting the memo. The City Attorney’s office isn’t saying “these are the cases you should bring.” It’s saying, “these are the cases to which the press will swarm.” Press attention is a fact of life for a government attorney, and the memo just seems to be an acknowledgment of that, not an exhortation to go seek out the cameras. The particular mix of cases, with the emphasis on celebrity fluff, is a poor reflection on what the press finds interesting, not on the priorities of the City Attorney. As a government civil attorney myself, it makes a lot of sense to me that they should try to prepare for press inquiries; it reduces the possibility that the assigned staff attorney might get caught off-guard and say something stupid or even prejudicial.

  • While it remains on the air, I recommend the TV show “Justice,” in which a high-profile defense firm, lead by a completely amoral media-savvy lawyer, defends either celebrity cases or celebrated cases, exploiting DA’s weaknesses for the media, and grabbing hold of the media angle at every opportunity.

    It’s not great TV, but it’s entertaining TV.

  • …”and grabbing hold of the media angle at every opportunity.”

    Sans Nifong style when his ass is too deep in the grass?

  • I’ve got to go with Tom T on this one. Considering how badly some cases have ben handled in the media, and how generally asy it is to predict which cases the media might actualy deign to cover, it makes prfect sense.