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Mayor vetoes legal aid in skid row suit

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has vetoed a $96,000 contract for outside legal help to defend the city against allegations that it discriminates against the disabled on skid row. It marks only the fourth veto the mayor has issued since taking office in 2005.

Villaraigosa, in an announcement released Wednesday, said that paying an outside law firm was unnecessary because the city has ample expertise, both legal and otherwise, on issues related to the Americans With Disabilities Act, which is at the heart of the class-action federal lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that the city violated the rights of the disabled by not providing adequate safety measures for them on sidewalks, crosswalks and traffic signals on skid row.

In his veto message to the City Council, the mayor said the outside legal expense was “contrary to our shared principles of fiscal prudence.” Villaraigosa warned Saturday that the city could face a budget shortfall of up to $400 million.

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The mayor recommended reviewing the allegations in the lawsuit to see if any have merit and suggested that, if they do, he would rather see the city spend its money addressing those concerns than paying outside attorneys.

The veto led to a sharp response from City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo, who had requested the contract for outside legal counsel. The council had unanimously approved Delgadillo’s request earlier this month.

In a letter to the council Wednesday, Delgadillo said he had been unaware that the mayor had planned to devote a “significant investment of resources” to bring the city into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

“In taking this action, the mayor suggested that we should spend taxpayer dollars to fix the underlying problem instead of legal costs to defend it. I couldn’t agree more,” Delgadillo said.

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In response, Villaraigosa spokesman Matt Szabo said: “We’re glad the city attorney agrees with the mayor’s veto of his own proposal, because the City Council should have had the chance to consider a smart settlement long before being asked to approve yet another expensive contract for outside counsel.”

Because of the mayor’s veto, the city attorney added that his office has requested a settlement proposal from the plaintiffs’ attorneys, which he will take before the council for consideration. If the council agrees to the settlement, there will be no need to hire outside attorneys, he said.

Of the mayor’s four vetoes, three have related to recommendations from the city attorney. The most controversial dealt with a $2.7-million settlement agreement with an African American firefighter, Tennie Pierce, who contended that he was the victim of racial harassment. The city ultimately agreed to settle the case for nearly $1.5 million.

None of Villaraigosa’s vetoes have been overridden by the council.

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phil.willon@latimes.com


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