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Panel May Seek Own Attorney

L.A. Ethics Commission will explore putting a measure on the ballot.

May 21, 2003|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Ethics Commission, concerned that its independence might be compromised by relying on the elected city attorney for legal advice, agreed Tuesday to explore the possibility of a ballot measure that would give the panel its own legal counsel.

The issue arose when the city attorney's office recently questioned the legality of an Ethics Commission proposal to limit independent expenditures like the ones that helped elect City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo two years ago.

"There is the concern that perhaps checks and balances don't work as well as they do if we are not truly independent from those individuals we regulate," said Commission Executive Director LeeAnn Pelham.

Assistant City Atty. Fred Merkin said the City Charter clearly designates the city attorney's office as the legal counsel for the Ethics Commission, and for good reason.

"The city attorney is able to bring to bear citywide perspective on issues that otherwise might not be brought to bear if city commissions hired their own attorneys," Merkin told the panel.

A survey by the Ethics Commission found that six cities and counties, including Chicago and New York, have their own legal counsel. However, the Los Angeles City Council voted not to provide the Ethics Commission with its own counsel when it established the panel in 1990, said political scientist Xandra Kayden, who helped draft the city's ethics rules.

The change also was supported by Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies.

"You are an independent agency," Stern said. "You should not be relying on an agency whose head is a political person who is an elected official."

The Ethics Commission will receive a report June 10 on the process of changing the City Charter through a ballot measure.

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