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Top L.A. County attorney steps down after less than a year

Los Angeles County's top attorney steps down after less than a year on the job

Los Angeles County's top attorney announced abruptly this week that he is stepping down after less than a year on the job.

In an email to employees in his office, Mark Saladino wrote, “This is to advise you that I am stepping down as County Counsel effective today. Over the next few days I will be moving to the Department of Treasurer and Tax Collector, where I will serve in a senior management capacity.”

“It has been a distinct honor and privilege to have had the opportunity to lead this Department for the last eight months,” he added. “I wish you all well in your continued service to the County and its residents.”

Saladino could not be reached for comment Friday. He was appointed to the position by the Board of Supervisors in September after previously serving as the county's treasurer and tax collector, and received an annual salary of $294,693.

Current Treasurer and Tax Collector Joseph Kelly, who took over Saladino's old position when he became county counsel, said Saladino will now serve under him as assistant treasurer and tax collector.

County officials would not comment on the reason for Saladino's departure. But the supervisors had been divided 4 to 1 on his appointment to the top attorney post. Two of those who voted in favor of the appointment, Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina, were about to be forced out by term limits. Former county Chief Executive Officer William T Fujioka, who recommended Saladino, has retired, and the new board has made a series of changes in top management posts since then.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who cast the dissenting vote on Saladino's appointment, said at the time that he wanted to wait for two newly elected board members to take office in December. Ridley-Thomas declined to comment Friday via a spokeswoman. The other board members declined or could not be reached for comment.

The county counsel's office is one of the largest municipal law offices in the nation, with a roughly $91-million budget and about 550 employees. It provides legal advice to the supervisors, all elected county officials and agencies.

Saladino's tenure was unusually short, but the county counsel post has had high turnover and some difficulty attracting candidates before. Saladino's predecessor, John Krattli, retired after less than three years in the position. The top lawyer before him, Andrea Ordin, resigned after about two years on the job.

Insiders and observers said the complexity of the legal issues facing the county, combined with the sometimes conflicting demands of the five supervisors — and the occasionally questionable legality of those demands — makes the job a difficult one.

“You've got five members, very powerful, with strong agendas,” said Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State L.A. “It's not always easy to count to three to hold your majority.”

But Sonenshein added that in the case of Saladino, “the circumstances of the appointment of this county counsel pretty much foretold the outcome,” because it happened in the face of an impending shift in the board's makeup.

Former County Counsel Lloyd W. “Bill” Pellman, who retired in 2004 after six years on the job, agreed.

“I think Mark may be somewhat a victim of the perception regarding process,” he said. The next time around, he said, “I hope that they agree on a process and that hopefully leads them to a candidate that they can all agree on.”

Follow Abby Sewell on Twitter at @sewella for more county news.

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