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Kalish Deal Has Council Uneasy

LAPD and city attorney explain why taxpayers must pay to defend ex-deputy chief in molestation suits.

March 20, 2004|Patrick McGreevy and Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writers

A majority of the Los Angeles City Council on Friday questioned the confidential settlement that requires that the city pay for the legal defense of a former deputy police chief accused in lawsuits of child molestation.

Eight council members called for briefings on the deal with David Kalish, who also will keep his full pension of $10,000 a month and the right to carry a badge and gun.

"I want to know why a year and a half ago department officials said there was 'substance' to the allegations [against Kalish] and the district attorney apparently agreed," said Councilman Jack Weiss. "And now it's a 180-degree turn. Either the LAPD failed to follow through on an egregious case of molestation or committed an egregious case of defamation."

Councilman Dennis Zine, a former Los Angeles Police Department officer, was skeptical.

"If you commit criminal activity, why would the city use taxpayers' money to defend you against that?" Zine said.

LAPD spokesman Don Cox said retiring officers are entitled to keep their police identification card and carry a firearm unless they received a felony conviction or the department can show that they are mentally unstable. By law, officers also are entitled to a full pension commensurate with their last rank.

Weiss and Councilman Bernard C. Parks, the former police chief and Kalish's onetime boss, introduced a motion in the council to direct the LAPD and city attorney to "provide a full report to the full council in executive session" on the Kalish matter.

"It's a unique case," Parks said. "There should be some briefing so the council is aware because it certainly will provoke questions, and the only way to address them is to get accurate information from the involved parties."

Kalish, then the highest-ranking openly gay LAPD officer, was suspended last year amid allegations that he molested three Explorer Scouts in the 1970s when he was a patrol officer in the San Fernando Valley.

Police Chief William J. Bratton suspended Kalish last year and said there was "substantial" evidence against him. In November, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office said that only a legal technicality prevented criminal prosecution of Kalish.

Kalish, 50, filed a claim in August against the city, accusing the LAPD of defaming him, illegally searching his home and violating his privacy. The city denied the claim in October, clearing the way for a potential lawsuit.

Citing department rules that preclude discussions about confidential personnel matters, Bratton and Michael Berkow, deputy chief of the LAPD's Professional Standards Bureau, declined through a spokeswoman to comment on the case. Mayor James K. Hahn also declined to comment.

Eric Moses, a spokesman for City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo, said the LAPD acted legally in its decision to settle its administrative case against Kalish by covering his legal costs.

"Both city and state law require the city to provide legal counsel for any current and former employee who is sued in the scope and course of their duty," Moses said.

He said there are good reasons why the city would want to pay for the legal defense of a former city employee in a civil case.

"In order to manage liability, it's in the city's best interest to provide competent counsel to ensure that the former employee cooperates in the city's defense and does the best to get a defense verdict," Moses said. "No matter what, the city is on the hook. The city would have to pay for damages awarded against him if a jury goes against him."

Michael Gennaco, head of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's Office of Independent Review, said liability against a city -- and the decision to defend an officer -- can depend on whether the questionable conduct occurred within the "course and scope" of official duties. "That determination is more difficult to assess with regard to conduct that occurs off duty," said Gennaco, who would not comment on specifics of the Kalish case.

Councilman Eric Garcetti wants a briefing "to make sure city policy is consistent when we put ourselves in the position to have to defend a lawsuit," an aide said.

Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, chairwoman of the council's Public Safety Committee, said it is standard for the city to provide legal defense for city employees accused of misconduct within the scope of their work. "We do that all the time for officers," she said. "I will find out from the city attorney who was involved and how they handled it."

Parks said there is ample precedent for the city paying the legal defense costs of police officers civilly accused of wrongdoing. "From a historical perspective, the city has defended people for on-duty behavior even though it may be outside the scope of their employment," he said.

Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa said the council should have a role in the question of Kalish's departure. "With all due respect, I think whenever we are incurring taxpayers' dollars in a legal settlement, the council has to exert its authority and jurisdiction to affirm or deny that decision," he said.

USC law professor Erwin Chemerinsky said it was probably best for all concerned for the case to end quietly. He said it may never be clear how much evidence there was against Kalish. "If there is substantial evidence against him, then the city gave up a lot," he said. "If, on the other hand, the charges against him are groundless, then the city gave up nothing because they gave him what he was entitled to anyway. In the end, this is probably in the best interest of everybody. This puts an end to what could have been an unpleasant and even ugly situation."

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