L.A. Fire Response Times: Mayor Rips Into City Attorney, Demands Release of Public Info

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Thu, Apr 5, 2012 at 4:35 PM
click to enlarge L.A. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich just got told.
  • L.A. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich just got told.

Never have we seen two L.A. city departments stage a fight so brazenly hostile in the public square.

In a new seven-page letter from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's office to City Attorney Carmen Trutanich's office (embedded below), mayoral counsel Brian Currey claims the latter is holding the public "hostage" by advising the L.A. Fire Department to withhold certain information from the media.

And the mayor apparently wants this fight to be public...

... because his top public-relations officer just sent the full PDF out to L.A. Weekly, and presumably the rest of his press list.

Usually we'd be asleep by the second page of any letter stamped with the city seal, but this one is gory and action-packed all the way through Page 7. Hot damn! Why can't city officials sack up and step into the ring more often?

Savor this moment, Los Angeles:

Letter to Bill Carter 20120405

Update: The real bomb here is that -- according to the mayor's intel -- the L.A. City Attorney recently sent a "series of memoranda" to the Los Angeles City Fire Department, demanding that fire officials "withhold all information connected to the location" of their 911 calls.

This directly contradicts statements by Trutanich's press officers in the heat of the LAFD's media-blackout scandal. They claimed that no new instructions had been given to Fire Chief Brian Cummings, and that it was the Fire Department's decision alone to start withholding emergency-response details at the particular moment that they did.

(A decision that got Chief Cummings into a whole lot of trouble with Daddy V.)

But according to the letter, the City Attorney got involved right when the Los Angeles Times filed a records request for LAFD response times:

"Three weeks ago, the Los Angeles Times requested information relating to Fire Department responses to emergency calls, including the address where each response was directed, and the administrative areas (first-in district, battalion, and division) where each incident occurred. Presumably the Times wants to see if where someone lives affects how fast help arrives. The Mayor believes members of the public have a right to know this information. But your office says they don't."

The legal argument from Trutanich's side was that releasing the specifics on any emergency response involving an injured person violates their privacy rights (otherwise known as HIPAA).

Some of California's top free-speech attorneys begged to differ. And now, the mayor's leading lawyer calls BS as well:

"Your written advice fails to discuss any relevant case or Attorney General opinion. I don't have to tell you that statutes are subject to interpretation. Judicial opinions, federal and state Attorney General opinions, legislative history, law review articles, and other authorities should be consulted for guidance on what status mean, how they interact with one another, and how they should be applied to a given set of facts. Your advice memoranda don't mention any of these authorities. Remarkably, your advice memoranda fail to cite even a single case or Attorney General opinion."

Burrrn. We've seen "Carmen the Barbarian" roasted in the pages of L.A. Weekly plenty of times, but witnessing this execution by a fellow City Hall suit? Priceless.

Currey then spends the next four pages tearing apart HIPAA and the City Attorney's decidedly crap interpretation of it.

Of course, at the heart of this ego battle is the true concern: Due to budget cuts within LAFD, firefighters have been showing up seconds, even minutes late to the scene. And either because of negligent miscalculations or corrupt cover-ups, Chief Cummings didn't inform the public of this potentially fatal fact until now, long after the cuts went into effect. So all of a sudden the media isn't allowed specifics on LAFD response times, because of freaking HIPPA?

We smell a rat. Thankfully, so does the mayor.

[@simone_electra / swilson@laweekly.com / @LAWeeklyNews]

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