Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey at a press conference at the Hall of Justice in Los Angeles on June 29, 2015. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
August 29, 2016
Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey has accepted more than $10,000 worth of gifts over the last four years from criminal defense attorneys, police unions, business owners, prosecutors in her office and others who could have an interest in influencing her decisions as one of the most powerful law enforcement officials in the county, according to state records.
The gifts include necklaces and a pearl box, sporting event tickets, bottles of wine, clothing and a glass rose dipped in 24-carat gold, the records show.
A Los Angeles Times review of state disclosure records found that Lacey’s gift taking exceeded the amount disclosed over the same time period by the district attorneys of other large California jurisdictions, including Orange County, San Diego, Riverside and San Bernardino. San Francisco Dist. Atty. George Gascón disclosed more than $18,000 worth of gifts, but about $17,000 was for travel payments from mostly nonprofit organizations for speaking and panel events.
The state’s political ethics law allows public officials to accept gifts totaling $460 from any single source in a calendar year, but requires officials to disclose the gifts on public forms known as statements of economic interest. In Lacey’s case, the forms reveal dozens of gifts over the last three years.
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Still, some experts in government and legal ethics say Lacey’s gift taking creates potential conflict-of-interest issues and could give the appearance that her office might be unduly influenced on prosecutions and promotions.
Bruce Green, director of the Louis Stein Center for Law and Ethics at Fordham Law School, said district attorneys should avoid accepting gifts from employees, defense attorneys and business executives within their jurisdictions.
“Public officials are supposed to be disinterested, but prosecutors in particular are supposed to be disinterested,” Green said. “They have extraordinary power to destroy people’s lives. And you want them to act in a disinterested way, not with an eye toward profiting.”
Lacey declined a request to be interviewed. But the district attorney’s office emailed a statement emphasizing her commitment to government transparency. It also pointed out that the vast majority of prosecutors who received promotions had not given her any gifts. Gifts such as chocolates and edible food arrangements were distributed to employees, according to a spokeswoman.
“I have complied with the law and will continue to comply with the law,” Lacey said in the statement.
Lacey disclosed nearly $2,000 worth of gifts in 2012, the year she successfully ran for office. She then accepted gifts valued at $4,000 in 2013, her first year on the job. She reported taking more than $2,000 worth of gifts in 2014, and last year.
Lacey isn’t the first district attorney, or even the first high-ranking elected official, to draw attention for accepting pricey gifts. A Times review of disclosure forms filed by county department heads dating to 2010 found that top law enforcement officials — specifically Lacey, former Sheriff Lee Baca and former Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley — had reported more gifts than any other county department head.
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