Bugliosi’s Next Trial — Winning DA’s Office
Sunday, January 9th, 1972
LOS ANGELES, Jan. 9 — Dep. Dist. Atty. Vincent Bugliosi, the Manson family’s relentless prosecutor, is ready to run for district attorney on a platform that will surprise those who remember his grim face during the trial.
On all the televised news conferences in the long trial period, Bugliosi looked more like an unforgiving law enforcer than a social reformer. But if he runs against his boss, Dist. Atty. Joseph P. Busch, in this year’s election, Bugliosi said he will pledge “to utilize the district attorney’s office for the first time as an effective instrument to bring about social reform.”
He has scheduled a news conference for Tuesday and expects to announce his candidacy. He has taken a leave of absence from his job.
Busch, a Republican, was appointed to his $40,644-a-year nonpartisan job when Evelle J. Younger became state attorney general a year ago.
Bugliosi, a Democrat, said in an interview that he wants the district attorney’s office to use more energy prosecuting those responsible for air pollution, bad housing, false advertising, job discrimination and all the other “crimes against public welfare.” And in a surprising statement for a tough prosecutor, he said too much time is being spent by law enforcement on the “one-roach marijuana case or chasing a hooker down the street. I am not saying these things are not crimes. They will be prosecuted. But I think there should be more emphasis on crimes that affect great numbers of people.”
Busch is not letting Bugliosi’s statements go unchallenged.
He told a reporter his department already is moving against social ills such as pollution, although not by the criminal sanctions that Bugliosi favors. Busch’s men are trying friendly persuasion, and as a last resort he intends to seek court injunctions and file civil suits.
Busch also said his department is not wasting time on felony prosecutions of such matters as first-offense marijuana cases, as Bugliosi charged. He said if the police find evidence of a crime, his office must act, but many minor cases are prosecuted as misdemeanors.
“Suppose a police department proves a massage parlor is really a whore-house,” Busch said. “You can’t not prosecute them.”
Besides having different views on the district attorney’s office, Bugliosi and Busch approach life differently.
Bugliosi is a thin, youngish looking 37-year-old who freely admits that his principal interest in life is work. During the two-year Manson case, he said he worked up to 100 hours a week. In his cramped Hall of Justice office, he still has the old brown army cot he used for catnaps, displaying it to visitors as a trophy of those days.
An interviewer asked what he would do if he took a day off — a day in which he had absolutely no responsibility.
“I really don’t know what I would do,” he said. “I am always looking for a challenge. I think, subconsciously, I must be driven.”
His only recreation is tennis — a game he plays with the single minded intensity of a pro trying for a big purse. During the Manson trial he seldom saw his wife, Gail, and their children, a boy, 7, and a girl, 5. He took a vacation when the trial ended last year. But even then he made frequent speeches and left town with Gail for only a couple of days of vacation in Palm Springs.
Busch is a broad-faced, friendly man who appears more easygoing. But he also works hard.
“I belong to an athletic club. I’ve gone there twice in the past two months,” he said. He said he and his wife, Jennie, seldom get to their beach place at San Clemente and he golfs infrequently.
During Christmas, he and Jennie were together with their three sons — a 23-year-old naval officer stationed in Vietnam; a 19-year-old at Annapolis and a 16-year-old who attends a local Catholic high school. But he had to break off the reunion Thursday to attend a district attorneys’ meeting in Palm Springs.
What would Busch do if he had a complete day off? “Probably I’d spend it down at San Clemente,” he said. “I’d either body-surf or play golf.”
As the campaign develops, other contrasts between the two will become more evident — and it could be a lively fight. Their views, for example, differ on Los Angeles Police Chief Edward M. Davis’ administration of his department.
“When I am talking about refocusing ‘the priorities of prosecutors,” Bugliosi said, “I am also talking about refocusing the priorities at the Police Department.”
“I think the police, like the district attorney, are overemphasizing victimless crimes,” he said.
By “victimless crimes,” Bugliosi said, he was talking about such offenses as homosexual activity between consenting adults, compared to a crime such as rape or murder, where there is a victim.
“The arrests of homosexuals and prostitutes are absolutely staggering,” Bugliosi, said.
Busch disagreed. He said that homosexual groups and others have given a lot of publicity to such arrests, but “a review would show there is not so much time and manpower spent as publicity given the arrests.”
He said his department has started prosecuting lesser criminal offenses as misdemeanors, rather than felonies, which carry bigger penalties and often involve longer, more complex and more costly Superior Court trials. Under his predecessor, Younger, too many complaints were prosecuted as felonies, Busch said.
“We’re not going to issue a felony complaint against a one-roach marijuana kid who has never been in trouble before,” Busch said.
As for the administration of local law enforcement, Busch said, “Our two law enforcement agencies, the police and the sheriff, are unquestionably (among) the best trained and best administered in the United States.”
Bugliosi said that, under Busch, smog control “has virtually no priority whatsoever.”
Busch replied that he has started a consumer and environmental section with three deputies and two investigators. In addition to smog control, the district attorney said, the section handles consumer offenses such as false advertising.
Busch also said he has staged two big raids to catch fathers who refuse to pay child-support payments “that accumulated more than $1 million in back payments.” And he has set up a single unit to coordinate all narcotics prosecutions.
Bugliosi said he expects a major issue in his campaign to be what he considers too few convictions in felony jury trial cases in the central district attorney’s office, the big downtown section in the Hall of Justice that handles 40% of the cases.
“Joe has frequently made the statement that we have the best district attorney’s office in the country,” he said. “He must mean the quality of the office in terms of acquittals. We have a shameful conviction rate.”
Bugliosi blamed “lack of leadership” by Busch, and charged that deputy district attorneys are not “specifically motivated.”
Court records show that the jury trial conviction rate in the downtown office for the first 11 months of 1971 was 48% — down from the 65% of the year before.
Busch said that figure is not the most important measurement. He said that the conviction rate — or jury and nonjury trials — was 87% for the central office in the same period and that is the important figure. He said the overall conviction rate for all offices was 80%, through November, 1971.
“What I am concerned about is the performance overall,” he said. “They are zeroing in on one aspect.” Busch called training in his office “a valid, good training system.” He said the office is obtaining more guilty pleas from defendants and the ones that are going to trial now are really the close ones.”
And in a jibe against Bugliosi’s pride at winning convictions against Charles Manson and his followers, Busch said, “It’s one thing to be assigned one case in two years and devote full time to it and it’s another thing to have six cases a day.”
Busch is the favorite in a contest with Bugliosi. So far, they are the only ones expressing open interest, although others may enter by the Feb. 14 filing date.
Busch has inherited much of Younger’s support, and gained some of his own. Last November, he had a $150-a-plate fundraising dinner at the Beverly Hilton, and the sponsors were prominent Republicans and Democrats.
Conservative Republican oilman Henry Salvatori was a sponsor, as was moderate Republican businessman Leonard K. Firestone. So was Democratic Assembly Speaker Bob Moretti, former Assembly Speaker Jess Unruh, State Sen. Mervyn M. Dymally, a leader in the black community, and businessman Martin Stone, who may be a Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 1974.
Such a lineup means money and endorsements. In addition, Busch will have the advantage of being an incumbent, and getting the publicity that the office of district attorney attracts.
Bugliosi, however, has some strength. His Manson trial experience has given him a public name. He is an effective speaker on television and will be a hard campaigner.
Busch has never run for election. Neither has Bugliosi.
Does Busch expect any problems in winning? He shrugged his shoulders and said. “I think I’ve done an effective job and I think I have installed effective practices. I believe I have the confidence of the courts and the criminal investigating agencies. I think I’ve saved the taxpayers money.”
Bugliosi said he is aware of the difficulties. “Everyone tells me the guy with the most money wins,” he said. “If this is true, this is a very sad commentary and an indictment of American political life.”
By BILL BOYARSKY