A three-year-old lawsuit between Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich and City Controller Wendy Greuel ended with a fizzle this week, with an appeals court declining to say whether elected officials can be audited at City Hall.
The lawsuit, inherited by Greuel and Trutanich when they took office in 2009, originated with a dispute between City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo and City Controller Laura Chick. Delgadillo sued Chick in 2008, saying that she overstepped her authority when she attempted to audit his office's handling of workers' compensation programs.
On Monday, the 2nd District Court of Appeal dismissed the case, saying it was moot because Trutanich had already agreed to allow the audit.
"On his first day in office, Mr. Trutanich had reversed the position of the former city attorney and invited the controller to conduct the audit," the opinion states. "He remained true to his word, not only cooperating with the auditors but providing city attorney's staff to support the audit team."
Trutanich and Greuel both declared victory, with Greuel saying she had been vindicated in her view that the case should have been dropped. Trutanich trumpeted the passage in the ruling that said he had kept his word by working with Greuel.
After he took office in 2009, Trutanich was blasted by Chick, who said he broke a campaign promise to drop the lawsuit. During one radio interview that year, Chick called him a demagogue and a liar.
Trutanich responded by saying he would be happy to dismiss the case — but not in a way that saddled taxpayers with the bill for the legal fees incurred by Chick and Greuel. Chick had asked the City Council three years ago for $100,000 to cover her lawyers' bills and was rebuffed.
"We are not recommending [the payment of] attorneys' fees for any private attorney hired by the controller, because they were not approved by the City Council," said William Carter, chief deputy to Trutanich.
Carter said those fees now exceed $200,000.
In its ruling, the three-judge panel ordered a lower court to dismiss the case but declined to weigh in on the central argument of whether Greuel can audit elected officials. Greuel said in a statement that the reversal of the lower court ruling would allow her to "continue to root out waste and fraud" in any part of city government.
Greuel spokeswoman Shannon Murphy said she did not know the size of the legal bills racked up by the controller's office. But she said Greuel's lawyers would work with the controller to limit the amount incurred from the case.