Lawyers and law firms are expected to contribute substantially in the next several weeks to the campaigns of Mayor James Hahn and City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa as they battle for votes in the May runoff.


When the two faced off in the mayoral runoff four years ago, Villaraigosa raised 50 percent more from lawyers than did Hahn. This year, the tide may shift in the other direction.


The city's big firms do a good bit of business with the city, giving Hahn, as the incumbent, the status of being a known quantity. He is also seen as a more business-friendly candidate, as evidenced by the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce's endorsement last week.


Still, lawyers did not embrace the mayor in the primary round, preferring instead third-place finisher Bob Hertzberg.


One of the biggest contributors to Hertzberg was O'Melveny & Myers LLP, a downtown firm that does a lot of work with the city. Since Jan. 1, 2004, O'Melveny and its attorneys gave more than $10,000 to Hertzberg, compared with $3,250 to Hahn and $1,000 to Villaraigosa.


"Lawyers, who are trained to be problem solvers, identified with Bob Hertzberg's visions for solving Los Angeles' problems," said Seth Aronson, managing partner of the firm's downtown office and a $500 Hertzberg contributor.
Aronson said many lawyers likely would give to both candidates in the upcoming runoff but added that "how that shakes out between Villaraigosa and Hahn remains to be seen."


In the last runoff between the two, O'Melveny and its lawyers favored Hahn, $9,450 to $6,250.


Another big set of contributors have been the lawyers at Manatt Phelps & Phillips LLP. Ron Turovsky, a partner at the firm, said the firm's relationship with the mayor was a factor in raising more than $10,000 for him internally since Jan. 1, 2004.


Such support was not exclusive, or even the most mustered at the firm, however. Lisa Specht, a Manatt partner who defected from the Hahn camp to become co-chairwoman of Hertzberg's campaign, was instrumental in raising $13,000 from within the firm for the former Assembly speaker's primary run.


Where that fundraising heft will fall in the runoff is hard to predict. "It wouldn't be surprising that individuals in the firm will support both candidates," Turovsky said. "I would hope they see the light and would support the mayor, but I think we recognize that people can make individual decisions about who they'll support and who they contribute money to."


In 2001, lawyers at Manatt gave twice as much to Villaraigosa as they did to Hahn.


Not all lawyers who contributed heavily to Hertzberg will play a major role in the runoff, however. Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw LLP, whose lawyers contributed more than $24,000 to Hertzberg, a colleague at the firm, gave nothing to either Villaraigosa or Hahn during the primary. They contributed very little to the 2001 runoff, as well.


Lawyers at Jeffer Mangels Butler & Marmaro LLP, where Hertzberg was of counsel while in Sacramento, gave him more than $15,800, with little going to the other candidates in the runoff.


Ben Reznik, a land use partner at the firm, said Hertzberg's support came primarily because he had a lot of friends at the firm. Jeffer Mangels hosted a fundraiser for Hahn during the primary season that raised more than $16,000 for the mayor.


He also said the firm, which pitched in $8,500 to Villaraigosa but nothing to Hahn during the 2001 runoff, is more politically active this year. And Hahn, he said, is a known commodity.

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