Serving Larchmont Village, Hancock Park, and the Greater Wilshire neighborhoods of Los Angeles since 2011.

City Attorney Shuffles Staff, Reassigns Neighborhood Prosecutors

View from a neighbor’s home showing cars arriving for an event at 310 N. Lucerne Blvd. a few years ago.  The illegal party house was eventually shut down with help from the City Attorney’s Neighborhood Prosecutor program.

Los Angeles’ Neighborhood Prosecutor program may not be the most well-known arm of city government, but it has for many years been one of the most popular at the grass roots level, where it has helped neighbors all across the city deal with “the most destructive community crimes like drug sales, illegal dumping, graffiti and more.”

For the last few weeks, however, the Buzz has been hearing from people in several areas that our Neighborhood Prosecutors are being reassigned by City Attorney Hydee Feldstein Soto to other duties…and many residents are not happy about the news.

“That would be among the stupidest ideas coming out of that office in years,” said Sam Uretsky, one of the neighbors most involved in a 19-month fight to stop the frequent use of a home at 310 N. Lucerne Blvd. as an illegal party/entertainment/event venue a few years ago. Uretsky said Mehrnoosh Naderi and Ethan Weaver, the Neighborhood Prosecutors who worked closely with neighbors on the issue, were “vital to finally closing down this operation and…for filing charges against the owner.”

Uretsky said he would definitely like to see the program continue. “It’s effective, it produces results and it gives citizens critical access to the resources of the City Attorney’s office.”

But the City Attorney herself told the Buzz that she thinks her office can do even better, and that a wider reorganization of City Attorney staff, now underway, will make it even more efficient and effective. The shuffle includes not only the Neighborhood Prosecutors, but also the office’s Family Violence Unit, the Gang and Gun Prosecution Section, and other specialized programs.

Basically, Feldstein Soto said, the plan is to use more non-attorney staff members to handle non-courtroom duties that were previously handled by prosecutors.  And this should have several benefits.

First, Feldstein Soto said, many attorneys currently assigned to special duties – like the Neighborhood Prosecutors – spend much of their time doing initial intake, attending community meetings, and researching community issues.  But taking those tasks off of prosecutors’ plates will free them up to actually try more cases.

Second, Feldstein Soto said, the City Attorney’s office currently has about 200 prosecutors assigned to the city’s 200 courtrooms, which is a 1:1 ratio that often means those attorneys can never take a vacation, sick day, or time off to care for a sick child.  But having more prosecutors available for courtroom duty would allow the the City Attorney’s office to assign two attorneys instead of one to each courtroom, which not only increases the number of cases they can handle, but improves their work/life balance by providing backup in case one lawyer needs to take time off for some reason.

And finally, Feldstein Soto said, there’s also an ethical justification for the moves:  current rules of professional conduct urge prosecuting attorneys to focus on just the prosecutorial phase of a case, and not get involved in things like community meetings, making recommendations to police about how to handle community problems, and other tasks that may determine whether or not a case will be prosecuted…all of which the Neighborhood Prosecutors have done in the past. Feldstein Soto said these kinds of civil tasks should be kept completely separate from trial work to avoid any conflicts of interest.

Next, going back to her run for the office of City Attorney last year, Feldstein Soto noted that increased efficiency was one of her big campaign promises, because while the office used to have about 800 attorneys handling half the current workload, it now has only 500 lawyers juggling twice as many cases.

Also, one efficiency-promoting tactic Feldstein Soto mentioned during the campaign was the creation of a new Neighborhood Law Corps, which she envisions as a sort of cross between the Peace Corps and Legal Aid. The current staff reorganization, she said, is the first phase of that process, with the more specific development of the Corps, which will do much of the grass roots work the Neighborhood Prosecutors have done in the past, to come next (though no specific timeline has been set yet).

Finally, Feldstein Soto noted that while she was the one who set the goals for more efficient use of the City Attorney staff, the plan for exactly how to do it was created by three staff members with a combined 70+ years experience in criminal law, so it was a bottom-up recommendation, not a top-down decree. But she said it is her job as manager to ensure the workload is handled in a way that’s fair to all and produces the best results for all who need services. And “I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished,” she said.

So what do the changes mean for our local residents and the community issues they’re struggling with?

Right now, Feldstein Soto said, the longtime Neighborhood Prosecutors are still “technically” assigned to their same duties – but instead of being based full time at local police stations, they will now have “office hours” there for four hours per week.  And the City Attorney’s four Community Resource Specialists (who are not attorneys) are still on the job, too, and can help with at least some of community outreach and connections to other city services.

Meanwhile, Feldstein Soto said the reorganization is also giving some of the current Neighborhood Prosecutors the opportunity to explore deeper focuses on specific issues they might be interested in, and/or whether or not they want to remain in criminal prosecution or move into civil cases instead.

So that means things are still in flux, and changes will be playing out over the next few months.  It also means, Feldstein Soto said, that right now there’s no real change in the “Ghostbusters question” (i.e.  “Who you gonna call?”) when there’s a problem in your neighborhood.  For now, at least, it’s still the Neighborhood Prosecutor you’ve always known.

Finally, Feldstein Soto said, the reorganization doesn’t mean the Neighborhood Prosecutors will no longer handle neighborhood-based cases.  It only means that if a Neighborhood Prosecutor is going to prosecute something, they can’t also listen in on complaints about the issue at community meetings — non-prosecutorial staff will do that instead.  And those people can talk also to individual neighbors, connect people to city resources, and work with City Council offices.

“We are working very hard on quality of life issues,” Feldstein Soto said.  But instead of one Neighborhood Prosecutor stretched thin on a specific neighborhood issue, the new system should help coordinate her staff to respond collectively, as an office, “with every tool in our toolbox.”

Some community members, though, aren’t convinced this approach will be as successful as the Neighborhood Prosecutor program they know and love.

Peter Nichols, who heads Melrose Action, a non-profit public safety advocacy group, recently launched a community petition – which so far has collected more than 400 signatures – to protest the Neighborhood Prosecutors’ reassignments.

The petition, which Nichols says is an attempt to gain the Feldstein Soto’s attention and to start a dialogue on the subject, claims that losing the Neighborhood Prosecutors “threatens public safety all over Los Angeles.”

Nichols told the Buzz that “we have an incredible relationship with our Neighborhood Prosecutor in the Melrose area,” and “in no uncertain terms can we live without that.”  He also said he has two major complaints about the reassignment of the Neighborhood Prosecutors.

First, said Nichols, having the Neighborhood Prosecutors in his community and attending Melrose Action’s monthly community meetings allows neighbors to hand off specific problems directly to the City Attorney’s office without having to involve the police.  “This, positively, no matter where you live, is what they’re used for – problems you don’t need the police for.”

Nichols said that not being able to pass these kinds of misdemeanor nuisance issues directly to a Neighborhood Prosecutor means community members will likely go through LAPD instead. But he’d rather keep the police out of small misdemeanor crimes and let them focus on more serious issues.  “This will cause them more work,” Nichols said. “It’s crazy…hairbrained.”

Nichols said he also objects to the way Feldstein Soto made the decision to re-orient the Neighborhood Prosecutors without community involvement.  He said that if she had reached out to the communities that rely on Neighborhood Prosecutors, she “would get an earful” on how helpful they’ve been.  Deciding to remove the attorneys from their grass roots involvement, Nichols said, without talking first to people at the community level, is “counter-intuitive” and “ill-informed.”

Nichols said he believes elected officials should always seek community feedback before making big changes like this. And not doing so, he said, is “backward…anti-community…not designed to help…and a nutty idea.”

But Feldstein Soto disagrees, saying she views the internal organization of the City Attorney’s office as a purely managerial matter.  At the same time, though, she said she’s definitely not ignoring those who are unhappy with the changes.  In fact, she said, her office has already responded to each of the more than 200 phone calls and emails it has received so far from community members and activists.

“Change always makes some people unhappy,” Feldstein Soto said, though she also said she hopes most people will soon see the benefits of the reorganization.

In the meantime, she said, if people do have community issues that need attention, and if they don’t get the kind of response they want from their old Neighborhood Prosecutors, they can contact the City Attorney’s branch supervisor to get someone else assigned to the case.  Emails to [email protected] will also always be answered (either by her or a staff member), she said, as will those to the City Attorney help desk, or to the office’s community outreach staff, Kevin James ([email protected]) and Danette Garcia ([email protected]).

“It will be taken care of, whatever it is, I promise you,” said Feldstein Soto. “My office is a service office, and we are responsible for what comes in the door.”

As for bearing with her through the transition phase, Feldstein Soto said, “Please give me six months. Lean in for six months.” And during that time, she said, “You can complain if our office hasn’t responded or hasn’t responded as well as when we had Neighborhood Prosecutors. But please don’t vibrate to the fears.”

And some community members do seem willing to give her that chance.  Shelby Blecker, a member of the Wilshire Division Community Police Advisory Board, who also works with the Melrose Village Neighborhood Alliance, which organizes weekly walks through the community for neighbors and their local LAPD officers, said he agrees with the decision to send non-prosecutorial City Attorney staff to community meetings instead of prosecutors.  He says that if community members have an intelligent, informed person to talk to at the City Attorney’s office, they’ll be happy, even if that person isn’t a prosecutor.

“I kind of want to give Hydee some room to maneuver and see how it works,” said Blecker.  “If it works, she’ll be a hero.”

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Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - with deep roots in both the Sycamore Square and West Adams Heights-Sugar Hill neighborhoods. She spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and has been writing for the Buzz since 2015.

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  1. This was a stupid mistake but it once again shows that Spring Street swallows up people who were neighborhood advocates and turns them into “untouchables”. You don’t make arbitrary decisions, you engage first with the public, explain what you want to do and then if necessary make changes. Public Safety is governments main responsibility and this program got more results than any other I know. This is strike one.


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