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Judge says L.A. controller has right to defend her office

December 3, 2009 |  4:01 pm

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled today that Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel can officially take the place of her predecessor, Laura Chick, in a lawsuit filed by the former city attorney.

Until Judge Mark V. Mooney’s ruling, Greuel had been in legal limbo in a case that she fears could drastically limit the controller’s ability to assess the efficiency of programs in the offices of elected city officials (including the mayor, city attorney and members of the City Council).

Former City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo sued then-Controller Chick in 2008, arguing that she acted beyond the scope of her legal authority under the City Charter when she tried to audit a worker’s compensation program in his office.

When new City Atty. Carmen Trutanich was elected earlier this year, he invited Greuel to audit the program, but for months his office has argued that Greuel did not have an automatic right to assume Chick’s role in the lawsuit. Trutanich’s deputies also told the City Council that they could represent Greuel in the case and that she did not need an outside lawyer, a viewpoint she vigorously disputed.

“The city attorney suggested I did not have voice" in the lawsuit, Greuel said. “I felt it was important, on principle, that the controller’s office have a voice in determining the future abilities of the city controller to audit.”

In court filings, lawyers for the city attorney acknowledged that Greuel had an interest in the outcome of the case, but said she was not a party because she had not acted beyond the scope of her authority — as they alleged Chick had.

Mooney indicated Thursday that he would issue a final judgment soon.

In a tentative ruling in June, Mooney sided with Delgadillo, stating that the City Charter does not authorize the controller to conduct a performance audit of a program within the office of an elected official.

But Fred Woocher, the outside lawyer for Greuel and Chick, said the tentative ruling did not properly frame the dispute. In objections, which the judge is considering, Woocher has argued that the plain language of the City Charter gives the controller the authority to conduct performance audits of any city program.

—Maeve Reston at L.A. City Hall