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

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

Comments () | Archives (13)

Yang needs to get off the fence, if she wants to defend people who are arrested then she can't serve on a panel that is the head of the police department. It's blatantly obvious that this is a conflict of interest. Either one is a noble and honorable thing to do, unless you are doing both at the same time. Make a decision Yang, do the right thing, I imagine you would expect officers under you to do the same.

She should resign or be fired. Fire Her!!!!!!!!!!!

This Commissioner should immediately resign. This is a blatant conflict of interest. The Police Commission is the "head of the Department" by definition. If she does not resign, the Mayor should immediately remove her. She knew better.

A CLEAR conflict of interest and breach of the public trust. She should resign her seat on the Police Commission immediately.

This is most certainly not a "conflict of interest". Any arrest in the city of Los Angeles is performed by the LAPD. I find it hard to believe that LAPD officers consider legal representation of someone they arrested to be an adversarial act against the department. Had her client been involved in an action involving his encounter with LAPD (i.e., resisting arrest, claims of brutality, ect.) she most certainly should recuse herself, and I'm sure she would have. This seems to be just a power-play by the union in their eternal battle against "outsiders" overseeing the LAPD.

Fire her

Yang is still a lawyer, let her do her job. Did the other members of the police commission take a leave of absence from their regular duties?

There is a clear conflict of interest here that screams for Ms. Yang's resignation from the LAPD Board of Commissioners. She breached the duty of loyalty she owes to the police department, the city and the taxpayers for her loyaty to the almighty dollar - in her pocket! She should know better and one wonders if she would now call her own allegations "inaccurate and sensationalized" in her own divorce.

As a Police Commissioner she has access to confidential information that anybody could understand creates a conflict. She has rendered herself ineffective. She can't have it both ways.

Her attendance at Police Commission meeting is very poor and we know nothing of what she has contributed of any real value other than what the publicists spin for her. Oh, then there is that deal in Burbank with their police department at how much money to her????

Is Debra Yang out of her mind? Absolutely it was a huge conflict of interest. She was speaking for Mariotti who committed serious offenses and yet she is suppose to be a representative of the police commission. She should be REMOVED as a police commissioner IMMEDIATELY. The fact that she spoke out to the LA Times defending this DV suspect is enough to question her motives and why she should remain a representative for the dept. She scrutinizes LAPD rank and file in her position as a police commissioner and many times has been TOO critical of them. Its about time she's gets booted off that board.

She should resign ,she knows better ,she knew it was a conflict of interest. She should have had nothing to do with the case ,then she runs her mouth.There is no excuse for her unethical conduct.

Welcome to the LAPD, Debbie!

I'd bet money that Mariotti with his famous big mouth just couldn't shut up i.e. "Wait til my attorney get's a hold of you! She's one of your bosses!" etc, etc. Of course it was a clear conflict of interest. She's a sitting member of the Police Commission and she was commenting on an active case. She should have kept her mouth shut. The LAPPL has dealt with a lot of Police Commissioners over the years and the goal is to work in conjunction with the Chief of Police, the Mayor, the Police Commission and the City Council. There is no power play involved, but it is a reminder that all of the involved "players" know the rules of the game and play accordingly.

This is clearly a violation. Yes, Ms. Brown, you can be assured the rank and file believe that her "legal representation" / LAPD Commissioner "representation" is an abuse of her position. Sure, you can obscure the true nature of those comments she made under attorney client privlege, but she has completely lost respect of the rank and file. She is disloyal and nobody cares about her day job. She is sworn and has been proven to be disloyal by making those comments. Of course her "client" slept easy knowing a police commisioner was his attorney. GIVE ME A BREAK. Cops are not stupid. We deal with deception everyday.


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