Amid a swirl of television cameras and persistent reporters, Los Angeles City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo on Thursday continued to duck questions about who was driving his city-owned vehicle when it was damaged in a 2004 accident and repaired at taxpayer expense.
At a news conference promoting his work with at-risk youths, Delgadillo repeatedly refused to identify who was responsible for the accident or discuss other controversies involving his office.
"I'm here today to talk about these kids," he told reporters.
His silence on matters involving public funds was criticized by public policy and government accountability experts, and was seen by some as an effort to cover up potential misconduct on his part.
Under city rules, the vehicle assigned to Delgadillo cannot be driven by a family member for personal reasons.
Earlier this week, The Times reported that two sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said Delgadillo occasionally has allowed his wife to use the city-owned GMC Yukon.
Another source close to the city attorney told of being informed that the Yukon had been backed into a structure in the parking garage of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center when Delgadillo's wife, Michelle, was there for a medical appointment.
"When it comes to city property, he should be an open book," said Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles.
Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Assn., said he found Delgadillo's refusal to answer questions about the accident an untenable position for an elected official.
"How can you expect a top law enforcement official to compel others to obey the laws or city rules when he is unable to do so himself?" Vosburgh said. "Even if there wasn't a legal obligation, you would think he would feel a moral obligation to come forward with answers.
"I'm surprised he doesn't feel a sense of shame."
Delgadillo's silence comes as he and his office face increased scrutiny. This week, the Los Angeles Ethics Commission approved $11,450 in fines against Delgadillo for 30 counts of violating campaign finance laws.
On Thursday, The Times reported that Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley had complained that suspects who could have been charged with felonies were charged by Delgadillo with misdemeanors.
And attention on Delgadillo's wife followed statements that the city attorney made last week to the judge presiding over the Paris Hilton case. Delgadillo had argued that the hotel heiress should spend more time in jail for driving with a suspended license and violating her probation on alcohol-related reckless driving charges. Later that day, Delgadillo acknowledged in response to inquiries from reporters that his wife had been ticketed for failing to obey a right-turn-only sign while driving her personal car with a suspended license in 2005.
Department of Motor Vehicle records show that Michelle Delgadillo's license had been suspended for nearly two years for failure to provide proof of insurance after an accident. Her suspension took effect a week before her husband turned the Yukon in to the city garage Aug. 2, 2004, for $2,120 worth of repairs from a collision.
At his media event at a Culver City park Thursday, Delgadillo arrived early but remained in his car for at least 10 minutes before getting out and walking past reporters. Without stopping, Delgadillo refused to address questions about his wife or the accident involving his city-owned vehicle. He said he would answer questions at "another time," but he declined to specify when. He then referred reporters to his spokesman, but the spokesman said Delgadillo does not intend to answers questions regarding his city vehicle or wife.