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
Focusing on the public’s right to know what its government is up to, Delgadillo gave a stirring speech. “Can you imagine the Belmont school fiasco had people known?” he said. “Can you imagine Oracle, or Fleishman Hillard, being exposed were it not for lawsuits to recover millions lost? When the people are excluded, corruption and mismanagement win.” He hauled out the famous line by former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis: “Sunshine is the greatest disinfectant of government!” Delgadillo went even further: “We cannot tolerate government conducted in backrooms with sweetheart deals.”
Afterward he announced the creation of a public-information unit, headed by Scott. Perttula, he said, would oversee the DWP, airport and harbor legal operations, which, according to a former spokesman, were “sinkholes of accountability.” He said his legal staff in those departments needed to remember that they work for the people of Los Angeles, not for the departments they advise. According to people who know him, Delgadillo fancies the example of Eliot Spitzer, New York’s indefatigable attorney general, who is as respected as he is feared. But Delgadillo’s performance in office shows him beneath such comparisons — not to mention his own words.
Delgadillo’s office will not say what he has done to improve accountability at the DWP or anywhere else. His office and campaign declined numerous requests to interview him. Despite two legal opinions by his own attorneys, he tolerates the secrecy of a pair of safety and training institutes at the DWP, funded with millions of ratepayer dollars but controlled by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18. Assistant City Attorney Fred Merkin was approached one day for his opinion on this arrangement, and he signaled his interest in talking about the issue, but said he had to clear it with the front office. A week later, Delgadillo spokesman Jonathan Diamond, a former editor of the L.A. Business Journal, told the Weekly that Merkin was no longer interested in talking.
Delgadillo ran up a half-million-dollar legal tab fighting a wrongful-termination lawsuit brought by a former investigator with the City Controller’s Office who nosed around a little too close to legal contracts on a major public-works case, and he refused to let Controller Laura Chick, once an ally and a political climber in her own right, audit his office’s use of outside firms. Legal costs have doubled in the last six years to more than $30 million. By the time the State Bureau of Audits got around to the job, auditors found insufficient documentation and failure to follow policies for oversight of private law firms that handle city business.
Despite all the fuss, his list of campaign contributors remains a who’s who of lawyers and firms. He claims outside firms have reduced settlement costs and increased verdicts for the city. Private firms argue that they work at a discounted rate for the city. Legal experts say the reduced rates are a red herring: High-profile government representation begets lucrative work in the private sector, not to mention the prestige of representing the city of Los Angeles.
When Delgadillo was a defendant in a wrongful-termination lawsuit by a former assistant city attorney, he advised the City Council not to convene a special independent committee to investigate the charges, despite a city ordinance that required it. Then he sealed his own deposition in the matter, which embroiled a group of Los Angeles judges, and the case had to be removed to Orange County. He hired criminal-defense attorney Carmen Trutanich, an old friend of D’Amato’s, as a special counsel on unrelated matters but allowed Trutanich to monitor outside lawyers handling the case, raising questions about a conflict of interest. City law prevents the City Attorney’s Office from representing itself in a lawsuit. The city got whacked with a $1.5 million jury verdict and stands to lose more than $5 million total when lawyers’ fees are counted.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of Delgadillo’s administration is the fear of dissent or even open discussion among employees. A recent call to a veteran city attorney for some information on how the office operates certain charity funds elicited no information whatsoever, but this response: “You realize I am required to tell my supervisor about this call.” (The Weekly found at least one case in which Delgadillo violated his own office policy, by channeling settlement funds in a landfill nuisance case to a children’s charity, on which he has served as a board member.) A call to a member of the City Attorneys Association, an affiliate of the Service Employees Union Local 347, prompted this response: “We have to be very careful. Nobody is allowed to say anything. People are afraid if Rocky loses, then we’re stuck with him for three more years, and it’ll be hell for anyone who says anything.”
In an effort to look outside what many describe as a dispirited office, the Weekly called former O’Melveny partner Mark Steinberg, head of the Delgadillo transition team in 2001. Steinberg had been willing to spend time trying to shoot down a story on a group of ex-CIA spies who claimed to be investigating Delgadillo’s use of private attorneys, but he, like many others, refused to talk substance. “I have said what I am going to say, which is nothing,” he said. Steinberg later left a voice message in which he explained, “I want to see Rocky elected, and I don’t want anything to jeopardize that.”