|D.A. Steve Cooley goes public|
District Attorney Steve Cooley took his “pay to play” case against Assessor John Noguez to the public on Wednesday, calling on Noguez to resign in numerous TV, radio and print interviews.
Cooley's round of publicity was unusual in that no charges have been filed against Noguez, and no charges are expected for some time. D.A. investigators are still sifting through mountains of evidence gathered in searches last month, and prosecutors have not decided whether to take the case to a grand jury.
If anything, it appears the D.A.'s investigation has hit a snag, as some assessor employees are refusing to speak with the D.A.'s office without a written order from Noguez.
As the L.A. Weekly has reported, Noguez is accused of directing an employee to lower property taxes for political contributors, in an effort to boost donations to his campaign. In an interview with KPCC on Wednesday, Cooley called that “a betrayal of trust if it did occur.”
When asked by reporters if Noguez should step down, Cooley said, “He should resign in light of everything that's come out publicly and because it's interfering with the discharge of that important office's critical functions.”
An attorney for one of the targets of the probe faulted Cooley for trying the case in the press before charges have even been filed.
“It's always dangerous when the D.A. flaunts a case in public to whip up sentiment against named targets,” said Mark Werksman, an attorney for tax agent Ramin Salari, who is at the center of the probe. “I would hope this isn't empty rhetoric.”
Michael Proctor, who recently replaced attorney Sheldon Sloan as Noguez's criminal defense lawyer, expressed a similar concern.
“We're not interested in trying anything in the so-called court of public opinion,” Proctor said. “Mr. Noguez has been and will continue to be cooperative with the efforts of law enforcement. Once all the facts are out, we think it will be clear that Mr. Noguez did not violate any laws.”
Cooley directed much of his ire on Wednesday at the California Association of Public Employees, which has advised assessor employees not to talk to the D.A. without written permission from Noguez. That has made it somewhat difficult for D.A. investigators to interpret the records they obtained from last month's search warrants.
“They better get a new lawyer,” Cooley told the Weekly. “They're interfering with a legitimate investigation.”
In an interview Wednesday, David Demerjian, the head of the D.A.'s
Public Integrity Division, called the union issue “more of an annoyance than a
The union has been complaining for several months about Noguez's close relationship with campaign contributors, and the influence that contributors seem to have in the appraisal process. Earlier this year, the union wrote a letter to Noguez, accusing him of jeopardizing “the impartiality and integrity of the office.”
But the union has also warned its members not to talk to the press or to investigators without permission from Noguez. Doing so could hurt their careers if Noguez is not charged or removed from office.
CAPE reiterated its warnings on Wednesday, advising members that whistle-blower statutes may not protect them in this situation.
“After the reporters and the investigators are long gone, CAPE members will still be working in the Assessor's Office,” the union wrote. “Following the correct procedures now will help prevent acrimony and retaliation in the aftermath.”
Cooley pointedly declined on Wednesday to say whether the office would seek to compel union members to testify before a grand jury. He said that no grand jury hearings have been scheduled. Assessor's spokesman Louis Reyes also said no one in the executive office has received a subpoena.
Noguez has said repeatedly that he is willing to speak with D.A. investigators. Cooley said on Wednesday that the D.A.'s office has yet to take Noguez up on the offer.