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Chick fails to get funds for legal battle

Zahniser is a Times staff writer.

The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday turned down Controller Laura Chick’s request for $100,000 for a lawyer to represent her in a power struggle with City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo, calling instead for the two sides to “stand down” in their dispute.

Delgadillo recently blocked Chick from auditing a workers’ compensation program within his office, saying she lacks the authority to do so under the City Charter. Chick responded by issuing subpoenas to six Delgadillo employees. He then sued her.

Council members delayed a decision on the lawyer’s fees for 30 days, saying they wanted Delgadillo and Chick to work out a solution -- particularly at a time when they are weighing cuts in city services.

“We’re living in the worst budget crisis in the city’s history, and the last thing I want to do is spend money on this issue,” Councilman Bill Rosendahl said.

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Delgadillo’s chief deputy, Rich Llewellyn, said his boss would agree to the council’s request for a delay. Chick refused, saying she plans to persuade a judge that the City Charter gives her office the power to review the effectiveness of programs in the offices of other elected officials.

Chick said she wants the matter resolved before she leaves office June 30. And she warned that her lawyer would work pro bono and then sue the city to recoup his legal fees.

“No, I will not stand down,” Chick told the council. “No, I will not step aside. No, I will not delay.”

Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, who is running for controller in the March 3 election, cast the lone vote against a delay.

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Council members did not authorize Delgadillo to file the lawsuit against Chick and have complained that the city attorney did so without consulting them.

The six city employees who received Chick’s subpoenas have already won permission from the city administrative office to retain their own taxpayer-funded lawyer.

“If those individuals should be allowed to have [legal] representation, then the controller should be allowed to have representation,” Greuel said.

Chick has been seeking to audit programs in Delgadillo’s office since 2005, when she tried without success to review his handling of outside legal contracts. Since then, she has argued that the City Charter allows her to review any taxpayer-funded city program -- a position supported by Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Irvine School of Law.

“I believe the only place left for [the disagreement] to be decided is the courts,” Chick told the council. “I have waited a long time for this.”

Councilman Richard Alarcon warned that some audits could be used for the wrong reasons, with a controller investigating an elected official who poses a political threat in an upcoming election. Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who served on the city’s charter reform commission a decade ago, said her panel never intended for the controller’s office to audit other elected officials.

“What you’re seeing here is exactly what we wanted to avoid,” said Hahn, whose brother, former Mayor James K. Hahn, was frequently a target of Chick’s office.

Councilman Eric Garcetti said he wished that Chick and the council could have resolved the disagreement by sending voters ballot language that clarified the controller’s role. That effort fell apart last month after Chick and council members disagreed over the wording.

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“I’m not very happy to be at this place,” he said. “I don’t think it reflects well on either of our citywide elected officials, if I can be frank.”

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david.zahniser@latimes.com


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