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City controller told to sever ties with private counsel

October 2, 2009 |  9:13 pm

The lawsuit between the Los Angeles city controller’s office and the city attorney’s office took a new twist today when the City Council ordered Controller Wendy Greuel to sever ties with her private counsel, Fred Woocher.

Woocher was hired by former Controller Laura Chick after then-City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo sued her for trying to audit a worker’s compensation program in his office. Delgadillo argued that Chick was acting outside the scope of her authority. The new city attorney, Carmen Trutanich, contends that Greuel is not a party to the lawsuit, an argument Greuel disputes since Chick was sued in her official capacity as city controller.

Both sides will appear in court next week before Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mark V. Mooney, who sided with Delgadillo in a tentative ruling this summer. Mooney found that the City Charter does not give the controller power to conduct performance audits in the offices of other elected officials, including the mayor, city attorney and council members.

Fearing that the judge’s initial ruling could severely hamper her ability to audit taxpayer-funded programs, Greuel has urged the city attorney’s office and the City Council to dismiss the lawsuit.

Trutanich has said the City Council must grant him permission for a dismissal, and it did just the opposite last month — directing the city attorney to tell the judge that his initial ruling should stand.

After conferring in closed session with the city attorney’s office today, the City Council directed Greuel to seek any future legal representation from the city attorney’s office, which has offered to provide either conflict counsel or an attorney who would be walled off from the rest of the office.

“We are counsel to the controller and if the controller wants to expend funds for outside counsel, the controller has to make that request to the City Council,” said Chief Deputy City Atty. William Carter.

Greuel said she was exploring her legal options, but that the arrangement proposed by the council would put her at a disadvantage.

“I think clearly if the city attorney is suing the controller, and the controller’s office, there is no wall that can protect the objectivity of a lawyer that is in the city attorney’s office,” she said. “My position is there is no need for any more discussion about involvement with lawyers if the council had dismissed the lawsuit today.”

—Maeve Reston at City Hall