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By Brian Hews and Randy Economy
District Attorney Steve Cooley was beaming as he told LCCN about all the work his office had done in the murder case that took the life of Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff David March by an illegal alien criminal gang member back in April of 2001.
“Back at that time, Mexico had a policy against extraditing people that faced a life sentence, we fought that for four or five years in the print media, talk radio, everywhere,” he said.
“We made our case, got some laws changed, got Congress to pass sanctions and got lots of changes that eventually lead to the extradition of Armando Garcia and his trial and conviction. He is now sitting in a California State prison cell. This one case effective hundreds of other cases here in California that have resulted in extraditions and successful convictions.
“There has never been a District Attorney’s Office to have a dedicated division to public corruption, specifically focused on this issue; it was also part of a Special Investigations Division until we changed. Our Public Integrity Division has a clear focus, and a clear mission, and that is why we put the proper resourced into there,” he said.
“We put a lot of talented people in there, and it worked. Dave Demerjian has done a great job with our Public Integrity Division for the past ten and 12 years. When you’re the boss, you get to make decisions, and allocate the resources needed and cleaning up corruption in our cities needed to become a major priority. Well, we did it. Other County District Attorney’s all over California have seen what we did down here, and many of them have started their own public integrity divisions,” he said.
“You can have crooks anyplace. You got corruption in these small towns here in LA County. Greed doesn’t stop at city lines, and it isn’t like we have a monopoly on it here,” Cooley commented.
Cooley also said that “personal friendships with people in politics” do not deter his office from “going after them if they break the law.”
“If I know of an elected official who was breaking the law, I would rescue myself, and say I wouldn’t touch that case,” he said.
Cooley said he is mulling the possibility of pinning a book about his career with James Elroy, from LA Noir fame that was responsible for the blockbuster movie and book LA Confidential. “I have lots to talk about and what took place here in the last 12 years. We could write about forensic sciences and how it was used to solve old cold cases, to murder cases, celebrity cases, and public corruption, there is a wealth of material out there; it is all about just pulling it all together.
Does he have any regrets? “No, none. Nothing that comes to mind.”
What about him being defeated for Attorney General in 2010 by San Francisco Attorney General Kamala Harris? “I think it worked out great, because I lost. The California State government is a complete mess, they have budgetary crisis throughout the state including the Attorney General’s Office. Between Governor Brown and Kamala Harris they wiped out the Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement which was one of the larger and most important enforcement tools, it was a great operation. It is not a priority of them, I guess. I would have ended up miserable in that job. I would have done a better job than Kamala Harris but it would have been a miserable job. This is a great job. I work with great people here, and these past two years we have had great cases, like Noguez and the rest of them. It worked out okay for me. “
Cooley also praised the efforts of Los Cerritos Community Newspaper.
“What was your thought about Los Cerritos Community Newspaper, when we started our series of articles on the case back in early 2012,” reporter Randy Economy asked Cooley.
“I thought about you guys (Los Cerritos Community Newspaper) that you are a relatively small publication but doing very large work. But I always considered the 4th Estate to be an alley and a partner in ensuring an honest government, and that is the role you play. Your scrutiny of public officials and public activity is vital. We can’t do it all by just prosecuting people. I wish there were more newspapers out there like LCCN. One of the great problems in Los Angeles County right now is that there are not enough good, critical newspapers. The LA Times is a great newspaper but they can’t do it all, and they suffered huge cutbacks in terms of their staff. The Daily News and the LA News Group do a pretty good job, the Tribune, the Star News, the Breeze. It is unfortunate that it is strictly a market function.
“I like picking up a paper (with an LCCN in his hand), opening it up, I got to see what is going on.”
Cooley also agreed to write the forward in a book that is being authored by Hews and Economy that outlines their personal journey from being a small community newspaper to a nominee for the prestigious Pulitzer Prize in less than one year.
As he gazed out over the LA skyline from his office, Cooley said “Los Angeles County is a small town. 12.4 million people live here and it amazes me how small of a community it really is.”
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