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Gil's Calling. Who?

Former District Attorney Gil Garcetti was elected president of the City Ethics Commission Monday and immediately led a minor revolt against the city attorney’s strict interpretation of state open-meeting laws. He and new member Bill Boyarsky objected to rules they said kept them from sounding out City Council members on their attitudes toward the commission and its actions. Garcetti asked Deputy City Attorney Renee Stadel to “reflect” on her warnings that such contacts could result in forbidden closed-door policymaking.

Stadel cautioned Garcetti that in the event of improper contacts it would not be the commission staff, but rather Garcetti and his colleagues, who would be targeted for criminal charges by the new D.A. “I bet!” responded Garcetti, who was defeated for re-election in 2000 by Steve Cooley. Cooley has taken unprecedented action against local governmental agencies for violations of the Ralph M. Brown open-meeting law.

Garcetti’s campaign manager in the contest was his son, Eric Garcetti, who now is a member of the City Council and is among the most outspoken supporters of the commission and its reform proposals. The elder Garcetti was appointed to the panel by council President Alex Padilla, one of the most vocal critics of recent commission proposals.

It was the first commission session for Boyarsky, who had to step out while his colleagues discussed possible repercussions of his role as a paid consultant to the Center for Governmental Studies. The center often lobbies the commission on reform proposals. Stadel said any conflicts of interest would have to be handled on a case-by-case basis.

THE SLY CAT

Councilman and LAPD reserve officer Dennis Zine celebrated his 56th birthday and 35 years in city service last Friday by reminding his fellow council members that he is “still chasing bad guys.” The reminder really wasn’t needed. Earlier in the week, city lawyers briefed the council in closed session on how much they may have to pay to settle a Tarzana nightclub owner’s suit over Zine’s personal raid last year of the “Frisky Kitty.” They also were asked to review any possible city liability or conflicts of interest in the wake of Zine’s adventure late last month with fellow councilman and LAPD reserve officer Greig Smith while the two were patrolling the San Fernando Valley.

In the Frisky Kitty affair, Zine donned his LAPD uniform in October 2002 to inspect the club, which is in his council district. The owner said Zine was harassing him and trying to shut him down. In the more recent and now legendary Smith-and-Zine episode, the two councilmen/reserve officers were with new Police Commissioner Alan Skobin when they answered a call of suspected theft in progress at Galpin Ford, where Skobin is general counsel. Smith and Zine wrestled with the suspect until backup arrived, while Mitchell Englander, Smith’s chief of staff, took pictures.

In preparing to lead the council in singing “Happy Birthday” to Zine, Councilman Eric Garcetti said he had been composing a special song at home but couldn’t finish because “Mr. Zine burst in, in uniform, and wrestled me to the ground with Mr. Smith while Mr. Englander took pictures of me.” He also said the council was going to buy Zine 56 candles, “but we couldn’t afford it after that closed-session settlement the other day.”

—R.G.

BALLOT COULD GET A BREAK

The Ward Connerly–sponsored racial-data initiative slated to appear with the Gray Davis recall on the October 7 ballot could be thrown out because it comes too soon to comply with special voting requirements in four of California’s 58 counties. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund sued Friday to strike the initiative from the ballot in Monterey County unless voters there first have 100 days to examine ballot materials. If a court accepts the MALDEF argument, and Monterey County doesn’t vote on Proposition 54, the entire vote statewide would be invalid.

The special 100-day requirement applies because of past discrimination in Monterey and three other largely rural California counties under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — the same law that gave the federal government jurisdiction over elections in Southern states during the civil rights era. But California’s recall law requires an election sooner than 100 days. If MALDEF prevails, it is not clear whether Connerly’s initiative would automatically return to the March presidential primary ballot, where it was originally expected to run.

Partisans on both sides of the Davis recall are split on whether it would help or hurt their cause to share the ballot with Proposition 54. The measure would bar the state from gathering information about race in education and state contracting programs — a move critics say would prevent the state from adequately treating health crises or combating racial inequities.

“Adequate time to debate and consider the analysis and arguments in the pamphlet is essential to an informed California vote,” MALDEF lawyer Thomas A. Saenz said in announcing the suit. “This is especially important when an initiative is as misleading as Proposition 54.”

—R.G.

FAMILY RULES

You don’t have to be married or even registered as a domestic partner to adopt your partner’s child, the state Supreme Court ruled Monday. The decision upholds “second-parent adoption” and underscores a growing rift among governments and policymakers over the validity of gay marriage and parental rights.

Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar wrote that California law recognizes the right of a person to adopt a child without affecting the rights already enjoyed by the child’s biological parent. The opinion did not specifically refer to gay or lesbian adoption, but it could affect hundreds of people in the same situation as plaintiff Annette F., who sought to adopt a child borne by her partner. Annette already had adopted and helped raise a child with Sharon S., but Sharon tried to stop the second adoption as the couple’s decadelong relationship went sour.

An appeals court ruled that state law does not permit adoptions when the biological parent does not give up custody. But Werdegar said the overriding consideration must be the best interests of the child. She dismissed as “nonsense” dissenting Justice Marvin Baxter’s assertion that the ruling could lead to “new and bizarre family structures.”

—R.G.


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