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Ethics panel, bar probe Delgadillo

Prosecutor vows to cooperate with inquiries into his alleged personal use of city resources. Watchdog groups stress need for integrity.

June 22, 2007|Patrick McGreevy and Matt Lait | Times Staff Writers

Investigators from the Los Angeles Ethics Commission and the State Bar of California have launched separate inquiries related to City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo's use of city resources for personal reasons, authorities and sources said Thursday.

The inquiries come amid growing criticism from community and city leaders about Delgadillo's conduct. In recent days, the city's top prosecutor has acknowledged letting his wife drive his city-owned vehicle without a license and enlisting staff members to run personal errands and baby-sit his children.

"There are certainly concerns about the misuse of public property for private benefit," said Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause. "Particularly because we are talking about a position that must maintain a high level of public integrity ... we would want an investigation to make sure that integrity is there."

Nick Velasquez, a spokesman for Delgadillo, said "the city attorney is fully prepared to cooperate with any investigation."

Because such investigations are confidential, authorities from the state bar and Ethics Commission declined to confirm them.

The state bar, however, confirmed its inquiry earlier this week in a letter to a Whittier attorney who lodged a complaint about Delgadillo's alleged unethical conduct after reading articles in The Times.

"I believe in ethics," said attorney Allen P. Wilkinson, who made the complaint. "Attorneys already have a bad reputation among the public as being dishonest and I don't think that type of conduct should be tolerated in the legal profession."

Meanwhile, on Thursday, two Ethics Commission investigators met for 20 minutes with the general manager and assistant general manager of the General Services Department, which is in charge of the city's fleet of vehicles, and asked for information on the agency's policies and procedures for providing city-owned automobiles to officials and various employees.

"They were looking for general information on what the rules are, and how people can arrange to use a vehicle," said one city official familiar with the afternoon meeting.

City Councilman Dennis P. Zine said he supported an investigation. "The Ethics Commission has a responsibility when allegations like these are brought forward to investigate," Zine said. "They should investigate this. It's very embarrassing for an elected official who is a prosecutor, who enforces laws, to be involved in something like this that defies common sense."

It has been a tough week for the Delgadillo family. On Monday, the city attorney admitted that his wife was driving with a suspended license when his city-owned GMC Yukon was damaged. Michelle Delgadillo was using the car to go to her doctor's office when she backed into a pole in a parking lot. The city attorney had initially let taxpayers pay for the $1,222 repair job, but after the matter became public he decided to reimburse the city.

Delgadillo also acknowledged Monday that -- unbeknownst to him -- he had driven without auto insurance for about a year and his wife had done so for about two years. Then, on Wednesday, The Times disclosed that Delgadillo had periodically called on his staff members to run personal errands and baby-sit his two young sons.

Delgadillo, who makes $205,977 annually as city attorney, said his employees had done those favors on their personal time, although several sources said the chores were performed during normal business hours.

One person who won't investigate Delgadillo is Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, who has recused his office because of a potential conflict: Delgadillo has been rumored to be interested in challenging Cooley for the district attorney's job. On Thursday, Cooley's office sent a letter to state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown saying that he would refer any allegations of wrongdoing against Delgadillo to the state for consideration.

"We believe that because of our conflict situation, any criminal inquiry that may be warranted is properly referred to your office for your consideration and any action you deem appropriate," wrote Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. John K. Spillane.

Whenever the city Ethics Commission finds evidence of criminal wrongdoing, it normally refers the matter to either the district attorney or city attorney, depending on whether the suspected violation is a felony or misdemeanor.

patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

matt.lait@latimes.com

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