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District Attorney Buron Fitts

Buron Fitts

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 disappeared.

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