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San Gabriel Attorney Quits in Row Over Police Inquiry

May 05, 1988|EDMUND NEWTON | Times Staff Writer

SAN GABRIEL — It took a few weeks for things to settle down for the new-look City Council.

At Tuesday's meeting, the three new council members were blissfully handling such humdrum matters as weed abatement and the question of whether to have a nondenominational invocation at council meetings.

But the air had not entirely cleared after their tumultuous first appearance two weeks ago. At that meeting, the three newly elected councilmen, who were swept into office April 12 on a wave of slow-growth sentiment, appointed a "transition team" to perform a series of investigations and audits.

The team was led by R. Zaiden Corrado, who was named interim city attorney. Corrado submitted his resignation this week, charging that Mayor John Tapp had been "politically motivated" in stopping the investigation of the city Police Department.

Tempest of Criticism

The surprise appointment two weeks ago of the transition team, consisting of Corrado and consultant Xavier Hermosillo, both with ties to development-minded Irwindale, stirred up a small tempest of criticism from supporters of the new councilmen, Tapp, Frank Blaszcak and James Castaneda.

In his letter of resignation, Corrado, a Fullerton attorney, said he was resigning because the city had not agreed to his proposed contract and because Tapp had undermined a proposed investigation of the San Gabriel Police Department. The Police Department has been torn by charges and countercharges between Chief Don Tutich and rank-and-file police officers.

"Besides the unwillingness to negotiate a contract with me, you ordered us to stop a probe of your police department after you ordered us to begin it, and your decision was, as you told us, politically motivated," Corrado wrote.

Reached Impasse

Tapp said in an interview that the council and Corrado had reached an impasse in contract negotiations because of the attorney's style and his financial demands. "Mr. Corrado is an excellent attorney in his field, but his methods, his approach to problems, are a little more high-powered than we're used to," Tapp said. "His fees reflect that, too."

He said Corrado had asked for an $80,000-a-year retainer, whereas the city currently pays about $50,000 for legal services.

Corrado could not be reached for comment, but Hermosillo, a West Covina consultant who has been a principal in Irwindale's negotiations to bring the Los Angeles Raiders to a proposed new stadium near the Foothill Freeway, said both Tapp and Castaneda had raised the issue of politics in calling off the police probe.

"Castaneda said that 'this investigation is causing political problems for me, and you gotta stop it,' " said Hermosillo.

But the investigation has already proceeded far enough to uncover possible wrongdoing, Hermosillo said.

"I told Tapp the problem that (killing the investigation) represented," the consultant said. "I told him that we could be bordering on a claim that he was obstructing justice. We (Hermosillo and Corrado) don't want to be a part of that."

Hermosillo would not say what he meant by possible wrongdoing.

Both Castaneda and Tapp denied that they were politically motivated in calling a halt to the investigation.

"They came in and jumped the gun," Castaneda said after Tuesday's meeting. It would be more proper to consider an investigation only after seeing a written proposal, he said. "I'd like to sit back and reflect on who's doing what."

Tapp said the council still intends to proceed with the investigation. "We have to do that to get the air cleared," he said. But he said he and his colleagues may wait until a permanent city attorney is appointed.

Meeting Requested

Officer Ray Schneiders, a representative of the San Gabriel Police Officers Assn., which represents the Police Department's 30 rank-and-file officers, said informal discussions with council members had led the group to believe that the investigation could be resumed.

He said the organization had asked for a closed-session meeting with the City Council.

"They should not let the investigation sit in hiatus," Schneiders said.

The group unanimously voted "no confidence" in Tutich three months ago, charging that the department was refusing to cooperate in interagency drug task forces or applying for federal and state grants. Tutich and his supporters, claiming that the department is an extraordinarily successful law enforcement agency, charged that the officers were playing politics.

But it was the transition team's ties to Irwindale, rather than the nature of the police investigation, that aroused the ire of members of Citizens For Responsible Development. The grass-roots group successfully ran the campaigns for the three new councilmen.

'Abhorrent' Idea

"The idea of Xavier Hermosillo suddenly proclaiming himself a spokesman for the new City Council is abhorrent," said one leader of the group.

The organization's leaders have met with the three new councilmen in the past two weeks. The three reportedly explained that they had decided to appoint a transition team because they had anticipated legal problems after City Atty. Graham Ritchie resigned two weeks ago.

The three new councilmen appeared chastened by their confusing first days in office. "We didn't get off to a very good start," said Blaszcak at the packed meeting. "But I think the public is willing to forgive us for that, provided we don't make any more mistakes."

The council, including holdover member Sabino Cici, appointed Los Angeles attorney William D. Ross as interim city attorney. Ross is chairman of the Pasadena Planning Commission.

The council also invited applications from citizens interested in filling the council seat of former Councilwoman Janis Cohen, who resigned in protest after the April 19 meeting. The council has 30 days to replace her.

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