By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“As an entertainment lawyer, he started with zero street credibility, though he accelerated the expansion of gang injunctions,” says a county prosecutor in the gang unit. “But he alienated civil servants, and he appeals more to corporate lawyers.” District Attorney Steve Cooley, who formed a County Prosecutors Association, which he claims Delgadillo has snubbed, and sponsored three-strikes legislation, which he says Delgadillo is avoiding, says, “I can’t say I know him. There’s some disengagement. He talks about abortion and the environment, that’s predictable. Set up a camera and he’ll be there. But he hasn’t impressed people that he has all the [skills] needed to be state attorney general. It’s not that he’s a Johnny-come-lately, more like a Johnny-come-early.”
To learn more about Rocky, one must look at his political operation and ask if it is helping or hurting him. Now that he is trailing Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown by 40 points, even Delgadillo’s fans are forced to admit that something has gone wrong. But is it Rocky’s fault? The pressure to get his mug on magazine covers led his office to go through more spokespersons than the fictional band Spinal Tap went through drummers. His campaign strategist, Larry Grisolano, quit on him, raising questions about who’s in charge. Both positions either report to, or inevitably have to deal with, D’Amato.
So, how much influence does D’Amato have? And is it a good thing? Lauded as a keen choice to be Delgadillo’s chief of staff in 2001, D’Amato, a City Hall veteran of more than 30 years who collects a full pension on top of a six-figure city contract salary, has been the older woman behind the promising young man, causing observers to wonder about some sort of “Mommy” complex. Some former employees say that perception is ludicrous. But many concede she is briefed on most, if not all, major decisions, and weighs in on legal matters despite having no legal experience. There also is a perception that she is overzealous in promoting Delgadillo, which may be confused with her own drive to be a political player, and that she lacks judgment and respect for the boundaries between politics and running a city office. The “Friends of Rocky,” as his inner circle is known, has another nickname, one that contrasts with the movie character Rocky, who waited a lifetime to get his shot at the big time: “Team 1600” is a reference to what many see as a pretentious and prematurely stated goal of the White House for Delgadillo someday. “It’s real, and it’s toxic,” says a former member of the office.
Delgadillo also has surrounded himself with Democratic Party operatives like Deputy City Attorney Kristina Scott, a low-key political consultant and former campaigner for Al Gore. Former members of his office say Team 1600 was enamored with former Deputy City Attorney Josh Perttula as much for his connections, particularly the Clintons, as for his legal prowess. Perttula, who now works for Ameriquest, would not return calls for comment. When he and other top-notch lawyers quit last year, rumors swirled that D’Amato and Krieger, a talented budget analyst with sharp elbows, had driven away quality people who valued the law over Delgadillo’s political future. But Terree Bowers, a former federal prosecutor now with Howrey, LLP; Luis Li, also a former assistant U.S. attorney, now with Munger Tolles & Olson; and Cecilia Estolano, a land-use lawyer recently tapped to run the Community Redevelopment Agency, are loath to validate such talk. Yet they are not eager to defend the environment they left. Li and Estolano declined to talk on the record for this story.
Privately, a number of current and former employees have acknowledged the questionable influence of D’Amato and Krieger. Some have rationalized it as a natural consequence of running a public law office. Bowers, who was hired to reform a shabby criminal-law section, and who has contributed to Delgadillo’s current campaign, avoids direct comment on the two, and chooses his words carefully:
“I consider Rocky a friend, though I am not a part of his inner circle. While a majority did good work, he inherited an office that lacked discipline. It is vastly improved. When he tried to upgrade the office, he met resistance. He also scared some other politicians with his ambition, and he developed some adversaries. Being the type to get out front on controversial issues, and not shy about holding press conferences, he ticked some people off. He served notice that he was not going to be pushed around in City Hall. Some people don’t like that.”
Bowers and others concede the perception that loyalty to Delgadillo is rewarded more than it should be, but Bowers says, “Our mandate was to improve the office. Some of the special deputy positions created problems. But he hired some tremendously talented people who never would have given the City Attorney’s Office a second look in the past.”
One August day in 2004, Delgadillo appeared at a luncheon sponsored by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. The L.A. Weekly had just published an exposé on the DWP and how, for close to a decade, the City Attorney’s Office had sanctioned confidential settlements of discrimination, harassment and retaliation lawsuits. The practice, considered illegal for public agencies, had emerged under Delgadillo’s predecessor, but for nine months his office resisted releasing the settlements, despite a threat of being sued under the California Public Records Act. Now that the cat was out of the bag, Delgadillo had decided to release the settlements, and he chose the well-attended luncheon to talk publicly about his commitment to openness and accountability.