Ending a yearlong power struggle, a judge ruled this week that former Los Angeles City Controller Laura Chick lacked legal authority to conduct performance audits of programs managed by City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo.
Less than 10 days before Delgadillo is slated to leave office because of term limits, L.A. County Superior Court Judge Mark V. Mooney found that the City Charter did not grant Chick the power to evaluate Delgadillo's handling of workers' compensation issues.
On Tuesday, Delgadillo praised the ruling, which also said the controller could not conduct performance audits of any of the city's other elected officials, a group that includes the mayor and 15 City Council members.
"This decision reaffirms that the responsibility to evaluate the performance of elected officials rests solely with the residents of the city and not with politicians advancing their political agendas," Delgadillo said in a statement.
Chick said she was "very upset" with the ruling and warned that it would prevent her successor, City Controller-elect Wendy Greuel, from conducting performance audits of not just the city attorney but also of a handful of non-elected officials, including the city clerk and city treasurer.
"The judge in this case absolutely did not understand the issues, did not understand what was at stake and did not understand the arguments," she said.
Chick, like Delgadillo, was facing term limits June 30. She took a job with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger two months ago and now oversees the disbursement of federal stimulus money within California.
The disagreement between the two citywide elected officials began last year, when Delgadillo refused to allow Chick to audit the workers' compensation program. Chick responded by issuing subpoenas to six Delgadillo employees. Delgadillo then sued her.
At one point, the City Council asked both officials to "stand down."
Throughout the debate, Chick relied on a legal opinion from Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Irvine School of Law, to bolster her case for auditing Delgadillo's office. Delgadillo responded by citing attorney George Kieffer, who was chairman of the appointed Charter Reform Commission in 1999.
Earlier this year, Chick announced her plan to vote for City Atty.-elect Carmen Trutanich after he said he'd welcome a "baseline performance audit" from the city controller's office.
The City Council refused to place on the March 3 ballot a measure that would have asked voters to clarify the City Charter's language regarding city performance audits.