Harris takes aim at Cooley’s enviro record

San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, the Democratic nominee for state attorney general, brought out a former Los Angeles prosecutor today to blast the record of Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley – the Republican nominee for AG – on prosecuting environmental crimes.

Matthew Monforton, a Los Angeles deputy district attorney from 1997 through 2006, said he resigned in protest over Cooley’s actions in cases where those suspected of environmental violations or political corruption were represented by attorney Robert Philibosian, a former Los Angeles District Attorney with whom Montforton says Cooley has “a very close personal relationship, a political relationship, and they also have a financial relationship.”

The LA Weekly reported on that relationship in 2006; here’s what it said about the example Monforton raised in today’s conference call with reporters:

In 2003, Deputy District Attorney Richard Sullivan was punished with a demeaning assignment for going public with concerns over the investigation of allegations of environmental crimes and perjury by the Newhall Land & Ranch Co. According to Monforton’s memo, Philibosian represented Newhall in the case. But when prosecutors, who suspected the company of lying about the presence of the endangered spineflower, sought a search warrant to obtain business records, Cooley blocked the effort and branded them “reckless and unethical,” according to the memo. No perjury investigation ever occurred. The company later paid a small fine.

“Mr. Cooley and Mr. Philibosian have been involved in what amounts to a protection racket” not only on Newhall but in other environmental and political corruption cases, Monforton alleged today.

Harris was on today’s call too, touting her own environmental protection record – she created an environmental justice unit within the San Francisco DA’s office to pursue cases such as illegal dumping, air pollution and poaching – and criticizing Cooley for declining to take a stance on Proposition 23, the ballot measure to roll back California’s greenhouse gas emissions law.

Cooley has said he’ll not take positions on ballot measures unrelated to public safety, Harris said, but he should realize that air quality and climate change are so related. “My opponent’s unwillingness or inability to stand up against Prop. 23 … speaks volumes about his priorities,” she said.

Cooley campaign spokesman Kevin Spillane said Cooley’s office never eliminated its environmental crimes unit, but merely consolidated it with the consumer protection unit; a dozen prosecutors work in that consolidated unit now, and have aggressively pursued cases of land, water and air pollution and other public health endangerments to win millions of dollars in settlements and fines.

As for Monforton, Spillane said, “He is a disgrunteled former employee who is an extreme conspiracy theorist, he had a troubled and erratic career in the district attorney’s office and he left under difficult circumstances. His obsession is actually not with Cooley but with Philibosian and Philibosian’s lawfirm, Sheppard Mullin – he has litigation pending against them currently … This gentleman basically was the office crank while he was there (in the DA’s office).”

Cooley has recused himself from the handful of matters involving Philibosian’s clients, Spillane said.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Elwood

    Matthew Monforton?

    All right!

    And did you know that Cooley once deliberately stepped on an endangered three toed lizard?

    San Francisco, Ms. Harris’ home, is a sanctuary city for the three toed lizard.

  • RR, Uninvited Columnist

    What the heck, is San Francisco a nature preserve? How about fixing the prisons, getting homeless crazies real assistance instead of asserting their “right” to sleep on sidewalks, curse at the top of their voice and pester or threaten passers-by?