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Council extends deal with law firm

Conflict-of-interest concerns had been raised about the city attorney's use of the firm, which had given him a donation.

February 14, 2007|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

Overcoming concerns about conflict-of-interest allegations, the Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday approved a $400,000 contract extension for a law firm led by a former campaign co-chairman for City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo.

The council voted unanimously to extend a $1.2-million contract, without new competitive bidding, with the law firm Cotchett, Pitre, Simon & McCarthy to assist the city attorney in representing the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power in a $218-million lawsuit against Reliant Energy over natural gas contracts.

A partner in the firm, Joseph W. Cotchett, was co-chairman of Delgadillo's unsuccessful campaign for state attorney general last year and he and other attorneys in the firm contributed $5,500 to a Delgadillo campaign committee in 2004.

As reported last week by The Times, a veteran prosecutor in Delgadillo's office has sued the city attorney, alleging that she was retaliated against after blowing the whistle on a potential conflict of interest involving the Cotchett law firm.

Kerrin Tso alleged she was transferred out of a coveted assignment after she complained that the Cotchett firm, after being hired by Delgadillo's office in 2004 to represent the DWP, had taken on six other clients in the suit against Reliant Energy, potentially putting the city's interest in recovering millions of dollars at risk should any settlement have to be split with the other clients.

"The city's interest was placed along with other plaintiffs' interests in detriment to the city," said Charles L. Linder, one of Tso's two attorneys.

However, Nick Velasquez, a spokesman for Delgadillo, said there is not a conflict and that the plaintiffs would not share in any recovery.

"While the firm represents multiple plaintiffs in the Reliant matter, each plaintiff has a separate suit that needs to stand alone, on its own merits, and each plaintiff has to prove its own damages," Velasquez said. "Thus there will be no shared recovery."

A committee that includes Council President Eric Garcetti and Councilwoman Jan Perry had last week declined to recommend approval of the three-year contract extension because of concerns about Tso's allegations.

However, Garcetti and Perry voted with eight of their colleagues Tuesday in support of the contract extension after the matter was discussed behind closed doors with representatives of the city attorney's office.

"I did have concerns. They were addressed to my satisfaction," Garcetti said. "Because it is an ongoing personnel matter, I don't want to go into the details of what was addressed. I feel comfortable with the ability and any potential conflicts with this counsel."

Cotchett did not return calls for comment.

Linder questioned what the council was told, noting it was done behind closed doors.

"I'm not surprised that Rocky advised the council that he doesn't feel there is a conflict of interest," Linder said.

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patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

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