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Delgadillo Rival Files Lawsuit to Replace Him

The third-place finisher in the 2001 election says the city attorney is not qualified because his State Bar membership had become inactive.

February 10, 2004|Patrick McGreevy and Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writers

A candidate in the 2001 election filed a federal lawsuit Monday seeking to remove Los Angeles City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo from office and have her named to the post, alleging Delgadillo is not qualified to hold the position because he allowed his State Bar membership to become inactive.

Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Lea Purwin D'Agostino, who placed third in the 2001 election for city attorney, alleged in the lawsuit that second-place finisher Michael Feuer also was not qualified to hold the office because he too allowed his State Bar membership to go on inactive status in the years before the contest.

In her lawsuit, D'Agostino seeks an injunction removing Delgadillo and ordering the City Council to certify her as the city attorney.

"Ms. D'Agostino's federal rights to due process have been violated," said her attorney, Stephen Yagman, who has successfully sued the city numerous times over the years on behalf of clients alleging police abuse.

Delgadillo disputes the contention that he is not legally qualified to hold office. "He was admitted to the State Bar in 1986 and he has been qualified to serve as the city attorney of Los Angeles," said Eric Moses, a spokesman for Delgadillo.

The lawsuit alleges that Delgadillo committed perjury when he signed a declaration of compliance with a requirement that candidates for city attorney "must be qualified to practice in all courts in the state and must have been so qualified for at least five years preceding his or her election."

Delgadillo allowed his State Bar membership to go on inactive status from 1995 to 1999.

The lawsuit cites a section of the California Business and Professions Code that says, "No person shall practice law in California unless that person is an active member of the State Bar." Practicing law in any court without being an active member of the State Bar is a misdemeanor and constitutes contempt of court, the lawsuit states.

"He intended others to rely on his intentional and false representation, he falsely certified he was qualified to hold that office, and others did rely on his false representation to their detriment, and to the detriment of [D'Agostino]," the lawsuit states.

Although D'Agostino has suggested in the past that the state attorney general should render a legal opinion on the matter, Yagman said he decided to sue in federal court because D'Agostino's rights under the U.S. Constitution are at stake.

In addition to the permanent injunction removing Delgadillo from office, D'Agostino is seeking a temporary restraining order preventing him from acting as city attorney until the issue is settled.

Moses noted that judges have rejected requests by the public defender's office to dismiss more than 1,000 cases on grounds that Delgadillo is not legally qualified to file the cases. The judges have determined that theirs is not the right venue for deciding the matter on its merits.

The public defender's office believes the trial court should rule on the merits of its requests to dismiss the cases, and plans to pursue the issue with the appellate department of Los Angeles County Superior Court this week, said John Vacca, acting assistant public defender.

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