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Alarcon Seeks Audits of L.A. Contracts

State senator, a mayoral candidate, targets pacts with outside lawyers, DWP fund transfers.

August 11, 2004|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

Alarmed by a sharp rise in how much the city of Los Angeles spends on private attorneys, state Sen. Richard Alarcon proposed Tuesday that the state audit the outside lawyer contracts.

The Sylmar Democrat also has joined Sen. Dean Florez (D-Shafter) in calling for an audit of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's $300-million transfer to the city general fund, to determine whether it is legal.

The Joint Legislative Audit Committee will take up both proposals today. Alarcon, who is challenging James K. Hahn for mayor, is the panel's vice chairman.

The senator's moves signal that he is prepared to use his position in state government to play an active role in city issues in the months before the March mayoral election, said City Hall observers, including political consultant Rick Taylor.

Julie Wong, a spokeswoman for Hahn, said a state audit of the DWP would be "a complete waste of taxpayer dollars," given that the city was already examining the department's finances.

"Clearly, this is politically motivated," she said.

The senator said he had requested that the state auditor examine the attorney contracts because it did not appear that the city was scrutinizing the billings.

But City Controller Laura Chick responded an hour later that she had scheduled such an audit.

"I am not marching to the beat of the state's drum," Chick said, adding that her audit would occur after January.

Alarcon said that the state wouldn't be able to start the audit for months and that he might eventually hold off on it if Chick acted before January.

But, he said, he plans to get authorization for the financial review today.

In seeking a state audit of the legal bills, Alarcon said he was concerned that the amount spent by the city on outside law firms was skyrocketing.

He cited a recent report by The Times that the city paid $18.9 million last year to 71 law firms for outside legal assistance, twice the amount spent five years ago.

"That is absolutely a concern," Alarcon said. "When you go outside to contract for services, it's going to cost more money, and you need to know if you are getting your dollar's worth."

The Times also reported in May that the amount spent on outside legal advice increased significantly at the same time that 50 of the law firms involved and their attorneys contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Hahn and City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo.

Alarcon said he wanted any audit to ensure that the process for selecting outside law firms was fair and not based on political considerations.

Delgadillo is sending his chief deputy to testify to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee today in defense of his handling of legal contracts.

"Our books are open," said Delgadillo spokesman Matt Szabo.

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