Council OKs hiring of outside lawyers in bias case

Times Staff Writer

In hopes of securing a second opinion on the Tennie Pierce racial harassment case, the Los Angeles City Council voted 13 to 0 to retain outside counsel to review the lawsuit brought by the former firefighter.

Court cases involving the city are handled by the office of City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo. The motion passed by the council on Tuesday recommends that he use outside attorneys -- which he often does -- but does not compel him to do so.

City attorney press secretary Jonathan Diamond said that Delgadillo had no objections to the motion and that a search for a firm to handle the case would soon begin.

The motion was co-written by Councilmen Greig Smith and Dennis Zine, two of the most ardent critics of the city's attempt to settle the case.

Pierce alleges that he was purposefully fed dog food as part of a racial stunt in a Westchester fire station in 2004 and then taunted by co-workers for months afterward.

The council last month approved a $2.7-million settlement, but Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa vetoed the deal after photos emerged of Pierce participating in other firehouse pranks.

The Times reported Tuesday that the city and Pierce have continued negotiations on a settlement.

It remains unclear whether the outside counsel would participate in those talks -- if they continue -- or perhaps take them over.

Smith, who doesn't believe the incident involved racism, said he was pleased that the two sides are talking. However, Smith added that he is not sure whether any deal he can support will emerge.

He also wants outside counsel to try the case if it ends up in court in March.

"It's not a reflection on the city attorney, per se, but they didn't want to go to court," Smith said, "and I believe we should have an attorney who is willing to go to court."


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