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California State Attorney Joan A. Markoff cuts ties with controversial Citizens Compensation Commission

May 31, 2011 | 12:51 pm

A state attorney who needs Senate confirmation of her appointment has quit as legal advisor to a citizens panel that angered legislators in April by taking away their state-owned cars.

The decision of Joan A. Markoff to have her office end its advisory role was criticized by Charles Murray, a member of the Citizens Compensation Commission who served as its chairman until Gov. Jerry Brown replaced him in the leadership job at the April meeting.

"It’s politically motivated,’’ Murray said of Markoff’s decision. "She’s concerned about her job. She has to be confirmed and we’re a liability to her.’’

Markoff was appointed by the governor in March as chief counsel for the state Department of Personnel Administration, a job she will continue in even though the legal division she heads will no longer be the commission’s legal advisor.

She declined to be interviewed, but a spokeswoman said the decision was not related to her Senate confirmation. Markoff said in a letter to commissioners that her office will no longer be providing legal advice to the panel "based on a conflict of interest which occurred at the last commission meeting and the potential that this conflict could reoccur in the future.’’

"This conflict arose due to our dual representation of the governor’s office and the commission,’’ she added. Department spokeswoman Lynelle Jolley noted that the chief counsel was appointed by the governor and the commission set the pay and benefits of the governor.

During the April meeting, with Markoff present, the commission voted to end the practice of providing taxpayer-purchased automobiles to state legislators and instead decided to give them a $300 transportation allowance as a way to save money for the state.

Brown had appointed Thomas Dalzell as the commission chairman the night before the meeting, and he had noted that Markoff’s predecessor as the panel's advisor had issued an opinion that said the commission did not have the legal authority to change the car benefit.

Markoff did not take sides during the meeting, at which Dalzell was clearly upset that the panel was not taking the previous written advice of the chief counsel’s office.

"I’ll state for the record that I believe that the commission in addressing this is going against the explicit specific advice — written advice of the counsel for DPA in terms of its scope,’’ Dalzell said before the vote.

A retired attorney for the state has been appointed by Markoff's department to provide legal advice to the commission in the future. On Tuesday, Dalzell said he trusted Markoff’s judgment in stepping aside and that the commission would continue to get good legal advice.

"I hope that the commission will follow the advice of counsel in the future,’’ Dalzell added.

-- Patrick McGreevy