Riordan aide’s alleged meddling in contract case could be costly


Every four years Los Angeles voters go to the polls to select a city attorney, the one person whose job it is to handle legal issues. The job description is crystal-clear. Crystal-clear apparently to all but one mayoral aide who thought he should involve himself in an ongoing lawsuit against the city. It wasn’t a wise move, and it’s one that could cost the taxpayers needlessly.

Michael F. Keeley has served in the mayor’s office since Richard Riordan began his term in July 1993. Over that time, he has earned respect for his business acumen and deal-making skills.

Now Keeley finds himself deep in political hot water, not his first such experience. At issue is a decision he made to turn over confidential legal documents to outside lawyers involved in a contract dispute with the city attorney’s office. Keeley told a friend that he had acted to convince lawyers opposing the city to drop their case.


City Atty. James K. Hahn--who probably faces a tough campaign for reelection next year and is expected to be challenged by Ted Stein, a former Airport Commission member appointed by Riordan--engaged in a bit of political hyperbole, terming Keeley’s action an “outrageous act of betrayal.” Hahn called on Riordan to dismiss Keeley, a longtime associate of the mayor. What the mayor did instead, appropriately, was remove Keeley from matters affiliated with the city attorney’s office until an investigation is completed.

Hahn says the breach could cost taxpayers millions. The City Council and the Ethics Commission have already promised to conduct probes into the release of confidential city documents.

In the meantime, city officials ought to remember that in matters of litigation, one city lawyer has to know what the others on his side are doing. For the benefit of taxpayers who foot the bill, the city attorney’s office--whoever occupies it--must be the one that calls the shots on the city’s legal strategies.