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Los Angeles city attorney and city controller given one month to resolve dispute

October 7, 2009 |  7:00 am
A judge on Tuesday gave Los Angeles’ warring city attorney and city controller another month to resolve a legal dispute over limits to the city controller’s auditing powers.

At the same time, the judge expressed confusion over the Los Angeles City Council’s latest request that City Controller Wendy Greuel seek legal representation from the same city attorney’s office that filed suit against her office. 

“I cannot fathom how that can be done,” Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mark V. Mooney said.

The dispute dates back to last year, when the previous city attorney, Rocky Delgadillo, filed suit against the previous city controller, Laura Chick. Chick had tried to audit the worker’s compensation program in the city attorney’s office and issued subpoenas for six of its employees. Delgadillo cried foul, charging that Chick had acted beyond her scope of authority. 
The dispute has since been inherited by the current city attorney, Carmen Trutanich, and Greuel, the current city controller. A new wrinkle in the dispute concerns whether or not Greuel can be represented by the same lawyer her predecessor hired for the city attorney’s suit, and whether any such fees should be covered by taxpyers.

Greuel, who insists she should be represented by private attorney Fred Woocher, appeared in court without counsel Tuesday because the City Council ordered her to sever ties with Woocher. (Woocher has told the City Council that his fees in the case have topped $200,000, but also said he was willing to reduce his bill.)

For its part, the city attorney’s office argues that Greuel is not a party to the lawsuit.
The outcome of the case could carry major consequences for the city controller’s office, and the scope of future audits.

In a June 23 preliminary ruling, Mooney sided with the former city attorney, saying that Chick acted beyond her authority when she conducted the performance audits.
Greuel has vigorously urged the City Council to dismiss the lawsuit, in order to prevent that tenative ruling from becoming final.

-- Maeve Reston at City Hall

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