The internal watchdog at the troubled Los Angeles Fire Department is again squaring off with City Atty. Carmen Trutanich over access to personnel records.
On Wednesday, Independent Assessor Stephen Miller said he had filed a State Bar complaint against some of Trutanich's attorneys for their roles in withholding records. He also announced that he has filed a claim against Trutanich for alleged misconduct.
The charges come as the Fire Department faces scrutiny over the accuracy and transparency of its response times and as Trutanich fights a tough reelection campaign against a former state lawmaker and City Council member who is trying to unseat him in the March primary.
William Carter, Trutanich's chief deputy, said Wednesday that Miller's claims were politically motivated and constituted "a meritless smear campaign against dedicated, career public servants." Carter said he plans to file a personnel complaint against Miller alleging discrimination because many of the attorneys targeted in Miller's complaint are minorities and women.
Carter pointed to an August letter from the bar that said it investigated Miller's allegations of misconduct and found they did not warrant action. Miller appealed that decision in November, and the bar's decision on whether to reopen the case is pending.
Miller and city lawyers have been battling over issues of access for more than two years, with Miller repeatedly complaining that fire officials have blocked his attempts to gain information about department investigations of misconduct. Department officials say they are simply following advice from Trutanich's attorneys.
At issue is whether the office of the independent assessor should have access to confidential employee information. The office was created by a ballot measure passed by voters in 2009, partly in response to high settlement costs from employee harassment and discrimination lawsuits.
The independent assessor, who reports to the Fire Commission, has the power and duty to "audit, assess and review the Fire Department's handling of complaints of misconduct committed by employees," according to the city charter. But city lawyers have argued that the job description does not permit access to private files.
The Fire Commission has supported Miller's right to access the files, in part because the city attorney's advice also affects which documents the oversight panel can review. Still, last year the commission denied Miller's request to retain legal counsel in the dispute. Fire Commissioner Alan Skobin said he and other commissioners have asked the city attorney's office to issue another opinion clarifying how much access Miller — and the commission — should have to employees' records.