Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley has closed his environmental crimes division and transferred the team's supervisor, who had criticized Cooley aides for interfering with an investigation into a politically connected developer.
Environmental crimes will now be prosecuted out of the consumer protection division with one deputy district attorney assigned to handle those cases, officials said. Cooley said he made the change because of budget constraints.
Richard Sullivan, who recently supervised four deputy district attorneys in the environmental unit, will move to the office's trial support division. There he will oversee the law library and exhibits intended for use in criminal trials. The only attorney in that unit is a retired deputy district attorney who has been rehired to work 120-day stints.
Cooley said Sullivan "did a miserable job" on a key investigation of developer Newhall Land & Farming Co. but denied that the reassignment was retaliatory. "What I think we're dealing with here is someone who's disgruntled," Cooley said.
The district attorney said elimination of the environmental division will not harm his office's prosecution of environmental offenders. He said other prosecutors in the consumer protection division could handle environmental crimes on an as-needed basis and that line prosecutors in other offices could also take their share.
"I feel very confident the work will get done under the new configuration," Cooley said.
Sullivan declined to comment Tuesday, but another former environmental prosecutor said that the transfer "is clearly retaliatory."
"They're paying him [Sullivan] whatever money he makes to supervise people writing charts?" Deputy Dist. Atty. Diana Callaghan said.
Callaghan and Sullivan last year had pursued a felony perjury investigation of Newhall Land for allegedly concealing the number of endangered plants on property it is developing.
But the case was taken away from them by top officials in the district attorney's office. Sullivan refused to resume control of the case after the course of the investigation was altered and the office recently settled the matter.
In February, the office dropped a misdemeanor charge as part of a settlement that required Newhall Land to maintain a 64-acre preserve for the endangered San Fernando Valley spineflower.
Callaghan was transferred last year after The Times contacted the district attorney's office about the case. She has appealed to the Civil Service Commission, alleging the transfer was retaliatory. District attorney administrators have said her transfer was not punitive.
Cooley denied Sullivan's transfer had anything to do with the probe of Newhall Land. He said Sullivan had requested a transfer from the environmental unit from the time he took office in January 2001.