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Low-key Los Angeles DA taking on high-profile cases

LOS ANGELES - For such a high-profile job, District Attorney Steve Cooley is a low-key guy.

He's so unassuming that, even after being elected to a third consecutive term, he's one of the least recognized public figures in Los Angeles. Unlike counterparts in other cities, he leaves high-profile cases to his most talented attorneys and doesn't grandstand by holding news conferences on courthouse steps.

But by going after fugitive film director Roman Polanski, medical marijuana dispensaries and Michael Jackson's doctor in the past year, Cooley's into a wider spotlight. The glare has brought some criticism, but also the attention needed for his run for state attorney general this year.

In a city known for serial killers, gang violence and celebrities behaving badly, Cooley considers other types of cases his biggest victories: busting corrupt public officials, cracking unsolved cases with DNA and using the case of a cop killer to successfully lobby Mexico to stop shielding criminals from being returned to the United States for prosecution.

"There are seriously evil people who try to evade our laws by fleeing the country," Cooley said.

The son of an FBI agent father and a homemaker mother, he was a reserve police officer for 5 1/2 years while attending law school. Those who know him say he's blunt and decisive. Critics argue he's unwilling to compromise once he makes a decision and focuses too narrowly on certain issues, such as medical marijuana.

Polanski's lawyers are among the loudest critics for attempts to bring the 76-year-old director back from Switzerland to be sentenced for having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977. In court papers, they accuse Cooley of playing politics.

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