Elected City Attorneys in California versus Appointed City Attorneys in California

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

The City Attorney plays an important role in cities in California.  I worked for an elected City Attorney in the City of San Bernardino for almost five years, from February 2001 until January 2006.  I was a Deputy City Attorney for the City of San Bernardino, one of the few cities in California with an elected City Attorney.  Each City (or City and County) with an elected City Attorney is also a charter city, which modifies the default settings for local government in California set by the Government Code and the California Constitution.

Here are the Cities in California with an elected City Attorney as of today:

Compton

Huntington Beach

Oakland

Los Angeles

San Francisco

San Diego

San Bernardino

Long Beach

Redondo Beach

San Rafael

Chula Vista

Albany has an elected City Attorney, but the voters changed it to an appointive post in November 2010.

Having worked in both appointed city attorney’s offices (City of Redlands, City of Santa Clara), and an elected city attorney’s office, I have some perspective on both.

An elected City Attorney position  is by nature political.  The office is elected, which means that the elected city attorney (or someone appointed as city attorney in an elective City Attorney’s Office) has to be a politician to keep the job.

An appointed City Attorney position is by nature political.   The appointed City Attorney has a constituency as well.  The appointed city attorney has to keep, at the very least, a majority of a Council quorum (which will vary by the size of a City Council) happy.

There are merits and demerits to both systems.  Individual’s opinions on the merits of an elected city attorney versus an appointed city attorney depend on the politics of the City, the person occupying the  position, and the community.

Since this is an election year for at least one of the cities on the list, I will probably be returning to this subject this year.

The information you obtain at this blog is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is established by reading or commenting on this blog.  You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.
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