A feisty prosecutor becomes District Attorney
during the Depression.
Buron Fitts was a proud veteran of World War I,
returning with a knee injured in a gunshot wound that would require
a score of operations over his life to avoid amputation. He became a
leader in the American Legion, which always gave him a strong base
of political support.
Fitts became a deputy district attorney in the
Woolwine years and chief deputy under District Attorney Asa Keyes.
In 1926, Fitts was elected California lieutenant governor. Two years
later, when Keyes was indicted for bribery, Fitts was appointed
special prosecutor to take charge of the case. Fitts ran for the
District Attorney's Office as well and won.
In office, Fitts reorganized and cut the staff,
while raising the salaries of the prosecutors and investigators who
remained. He concentrated enforcement efforts on gambling and other
crimes of vice. Then while making an unsuccessful attempt to run for
governor in 1930 he ran into trouble himself.
A well-known District Attorney's Office
investigator, Leslie T. White, had come upon a prostitution ring
specializing in underage girls. The ring's madam said that she had
supplied young girls to several wealthy businessmen, including John
P. Mills, a real-estate developer and friend of Fitts. The madam
claimed that she had delivered a young virgin every week to Mills. A
sixteen-year-old girl was willing to testify against Mills and he
was charged with statutory rape. Eventually, the other businessmen
charged in the case were acquitted. Fitts dropped the remaining
charge against Mills, saying that there wasn't sufficient evidence
to take him to court and that the complaining witness had
Political rival and future reform mayor Fletcher
Bowron, then a superior court judge, urged the grand jury to take a
close look at several politicians. The grand jury responded with and
indictment of Fitts -- and his sister, who worked as his secretary
-- for bribery and perjury. The grand jury charged that Fitts and
his sister had sold Mills a useless orange grove that the family had
owned, receiving much more than it was worth in the trade --
essentially a bribe to Fitts to drop the rape charge. Two years
later, Fitts was acquitted. His sister's charges were dismissed.
During World War II, Fitts went back into the
military, joining the Army Air Force. He commanded combat operations
in Europe and North Africa.
Reprinted from FOR THE PEOPLE --
Inside the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office 1850-2000
by Michael Parrish. ISBN 1-883318-15-7