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L.A. police commissioner's role questioned in domestic abuse case

October 6, 2010 |  6:34 pm

The role a Los Angeles police commissioner played in the domestic abuse case of a popular sports columnist raised questions of whether she faced a conflict of interest, said the head of the city’s police  union.

Last month, Debra Wong Yang, a high-profile attorney and member of the civilian commission that oversees the LAPD, was involved briefly in representing Jay Mariotti, an ESPN personality and sports writer. Mariotti was arrested by LAPD officers on suspicion of domestic abuse after he allegedly got into a physical confrontation with his girlfriend and police were summoned to the Venice-area apartment they shared. 

Prosecutors charged Mariotti with seven misdemeanor counts. In a deal struck with the L.A. city attorney’s office, six of the charges were dropped and Mariotti pleaded no contest to the seventh.

Other attorneys from Yang’s firm, Gibson Dunn, accompanied Mariotti at his court appearances. 

Yang, however, spoke to The Times for an article about the case and in the article was identified as the TV personality’s attorney. In those comments, Yang called the woman’s allegations against Mariotti “inaccurate and sensationalized.”

That, said Paul M. Weber, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, was enough to create the appearance of a conflict, if not an actual one for Yang.  The five-member Police Commission sets LAPD policies and serves as a watchdog over the department.

“She made statements defending him,” Weber said. “Just the appearance of conflict is troubling.  She needs to set an example for the rank-and-file officers.”

Yang defended her decision. Mariotti, she said, never received any special treatment because of her position and her comments did not call into question work done by LAPD officers. Citing attorney-client privacy rights, Yang declined to provide details of what work she performed for Mariotti, but downplayed her role and said she would not have been involved with the case had it proceeded toward trial.

Those explanations didn’t hold water with Weber, who said he planned to meet with Yang to discuss the issue and express the union’s concern.

“If one of our officers tried to do something like that, they would receive some serious scrutiny from supervisors,” he said.

--Joel Rubin