Interim sheriff, L.A. County officials spar over watchdog's access

Interim sheriff, L.A. County officials spar over watchdog's access
Then-prosecutor Max Huntsman delivers his opening statement in the trial of Angela Spaccia, former assistant city manager of Bell who was charged with misappropriation of public funds. Huntsman is now the inspector general of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles County officials are at odds over how much access and under what conditions the Sheriff's Department's newly appointed watchdog will have to confidential information on deputy-involved shootings and other department issues.

The county's Board of Supervisors appointed former prosecutor Max Huntsman in November to head up the newly created Office of Inspector General for the Sheriff's Department. County officials are still hammering out the details of how the office will be structured.


Interim Sheriff John Scott wants the inspector general to be bound by an attorney-client relationship with his department, so that confidential information shared with Huntsman as part of his investigations can't be subpoenaed or released to the public.

"Absent an Attorney-Client relationship my desire to cooperate with the OIG will remain consistently high, but my actual ability to share information will be impaired and will need to be determined on a case-by-case basis," Scott said in a statement Wednesday.

Past civilian monitors of the Sheriff's Department have functioned under an attorney-client relationship. Sheriff's officials said attorneys from outside the county had advised Scott to set up a similar relationship with the inspector general, although the county's top attorney advised that such an arrangement wasn't necessary.

At a public meeting Wednesday, aides to the supervisors opposed the sheriff's proposal, saying it would impede Huntsman's independence.

"The [inspector general] is being put into place to be a monitor, oversight, and distant from your organization," Joseph Charney, a deputy to Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, told sheriff's officials. "We're concerned about that."

Some county officials argued that attorney-client privilege would not apply, in any case, since the inspector general would not be giving legal advice to the sheriff. They said other state laws already protect the confidentiality of sensitive information.

"I don't see where the attorney-client privilege provides any additional protection with respect to either personnel and disciplinary information or open investigations," said Richard Drooyan, an attorney who has monitored the progress of reforms in the Sheriff's Department. "And to the extent that it's intended to shield problems in the Sheriff's Department, that's what we want to avoid."

The inspector general of the Los Angeles Police Department does not operate under attorney-client privilege, Drooyan said in an interview later.

Monitoring the Sheriff's Department is more complicated, because the sheriff is an elected official.

Under a proposal the board will vote on this month, the inspector general would not have an attorney-client relationship with the sheriff, but would have such a relationship with the Board of Supervisors so that they could consult him when the county is faced with lawsuits.

Follow Abby Sewell at @sewella for more Los Angeles County news.