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Delgadillo Convictions Binding, Legal Letter Says

June 17, 2004|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

The state attorney general has concluded that thousands of convictions won by Los Angeles City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo would stand, even if an appellate court finds he is not qualified to hold office.

The legal opinion was requested by David Wesley, supervising judge of the Los Angeles County Superior Court's criminal departments, after the public defender sought to overturn thousands of cases on grounds that Delgadillo let his membership in the State Bar of California lapse before he ran for city attorney. The City Charter requires that all candidates be qualified to practice in all state courts for five years before the election.

Earlier this year, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit by Lea Purwin D'Agostino, another candidate in the 2001 election, challenging Delgadillo's qualifications, but the case has been appealed and is scheduled for oral arguments in September.

In a letter to Wesley this week, Chief Deputy Atty. Gen. Richard M. Frank said the courts, not the attorney general's office, are the place to decide the merits of whether Delgadillo is legally qualified to hold office.

He added that even if the courts ordered Delgadillo removed from office, all acts he took as city attorney, including the prosecution of criminals, would remain valid under the court-upheld doctrine that a person is a de facto public officer if elected, even if it's determined later that the officer was not eligible.

Michael Soloff, an attorney representing Delgadillo, said the letter "made clear that everything Rocky has done is lawful and binding."

Soloff also noted that the attorney general's office cited a 2000 legal opinion by then-City Atty. James K. Hahn that indicated inactive status with the bar does not disqualify someone from running for city attorney.

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