DWP union trustees ordered to accept city appointees to nonprofit boards

DWP union trustees ordered to accept city appointees to nonprofit boards
Flags wave as hundreds of union workers protest outside DWP headquarters in downtown Los Angeles last month over the city's threat to withhold money from two controversial DWP-affiliated nonprofits. (Christina House, For the Los Angeles Times)

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ordered union appointees at two L.A. Department of Water and Power nonprofits to recognize trustees allied with Mayor Eric Garcetti on Friday, the latest twist in an ongoing saga over the details of the nonprofits' spending.

The mayor's office heralded the decision as a victory. "With today's ruling, DWP trustees can take their seat at the table to make sure ratepayer money is not misspent," Garcetti spokesman Jeff Millman said in a written statement.


Garcetti and other city leaders have been warring with DWP union leader Brian D'Arcy as they seek financial records detailing how more than $40 million in ratepayer money was spent by two entities — the Joint Training Institute and the Joint Safety Institute. City leaders started demanding the records last year after The Times reported that DWP managers had little information about how the trust money was being used.

The nonprofits are run by boards split between union and management appointees. As the fight drags on, union trustees have refused to meet with two newly selected management appointees, mayoral counsel Richard Llewellyn and DWP board member Michael Fleming, who were appointed by DWP commissioners earlier this year. If the trustees met, the new appointees could potentially gain access to the nonprofits' financial details.

At the Friday hearing, the judge did not specifically order the trustees to hold a meeting, questioning how the court would monitor it. However, the preliminary injunction requires the union to recognize Llewellyn and Fleming's rights and powers as "lawfully appointed" management trustees. Millman said the management trustees sent a letter to the union trustees Friday seeking a meeting.

Attorney D. William Heine Jr., who represented the union, argued that Fleming and Llewellyn, "the mayor's lawyer," were hostile to the trust goals. "They want to shut them down," Heine argued in court.

But Judge Michael Linfield was unswayed by arguments that Llewellyn and Fleming represented Garcetti and could therefore have a conflict of interest. Failing to recognize them would cause the same kind of irreparable harm as not allowing someone who was elected to take office, Linfield said.

In a tentative ruling posted on the court website Thursday, the judge said the union had shown no evidence that the two were "agents of the mayor," nor had it shown that the mayor had interests against those of the trusts. At a Friday hearing, Linfield said he had only gotten "hearsay" about the issue.

Heine said they were still gathering evidence to make that case. He declined to answer questions after the hearing about whether the union would appeal the decision, referring reporters to a union representative who did not return calls seeking comment Friday.

The union is already battling an earlier ruling nudging it to open up the nonprofit books: Earlier this year, D'Arcy appealed after another Superior Court judge ordered him to release financial records for the nonprofits to City Controller Ron Galperin and be interviewed under oath by city auditors. He won a stay of that ruling from an appeals court while it decides the case.

The Friday decision hands a victory to the mayor as other city officials step up their demands for transparency at the trusts: Last week, Galperin said he wouldn't sign checks for an expected $4-million payment to the nonprofits. The same day, City Atty. Mike Feuer filed a lawsuit that seeks to have a court-appointed receiver take over the two groups.

Times staff writer Jack Dolan contributed to this report.

Twitter: @latimesemily