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California Senate launches two expensive probes after shooting

PoliticsCrimeDarrell Steinberg
Senate conducting review of the sergeant-at-arms office after fatal shooting

The state Senate is spending tens of thousands of dollars on outside attorneys to look into issues raised when one of its sergeants-at-arms was involved in a fatal shooting in front of his house and was determined to have cocaine in his system at the time of the incident.

Former Sgt.-at-Arms Gerardo Lopez was fired in May after Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) learned of the blood test showing Lopez had used cocaine.

Chief Sgt.-at-arms Tony Beard later resigned after admitting he delayed telling Steinberg about the drug test for weeks.

On Monday, Steinberg’s office said the Senate spent $41,486 to hire private attorney Sue Ann Van Dermyden and threat assessment expert James Cawood of Factor One to conduct a study to determine whether senators are secure following the home invasion robbery at Lopez’s house that led to the fatal shooting. The results of that study are confidential, according to Mark Hedlund, a spokesman for Steinberg.

“I can tell you that the Senate is now in the process of drafting new, updated operating procedures and codes of conduct for the Sgt.-at-Arms office,” Hedlund said.

The fatal shooting probe is not the only Senate investigation resulting from the Lopez incident.

Lopez’s mother is a human relations manager for the Senate and Steinberg’s office had received complaints that several other relatives had also been employed.

As a result, Hedlund said the legislative counsel separately signed a $325-per-hour contract with private attorney Heather Irwin to look into “concerns raised by some employees as to the management and operations of the Senate sergeants’ office.”

Under current policy, Hedlund said, “there is no prohibition of employment of relatives in Senate positions, unless one of them would have a supervisory role over the other that raises a perceived or actual conflict of interest, or if the relatives are in job positions in which a conflict of interest could otherwise arise.”

That report is expected to be complete later this month.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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