Board OKs investigation of County Counsel’s Office

first_img“I’m trying to control my temper,” Yaroslavsky said. “This is almost McCarthyistic in its approach.” He added that he’d read Nagle’s report and found it questionable. “It was followed within days by a motion … for an independent counsel to investigate, based on Mr. Nagle’s report, which I thought, to put it charitably, was jumping the gun. … It doesn’t matter what (Fortner’s) response was. You (Molina and Antonovich) were out to get him. Now you want me to believe you are going to hire an independent investigator and let the chips fall where they may. I don’t believe you.” But Antonovich said Nagle made serious allegations that require an independent investigation. “There ought not to be any fear of openness in the review of the facts and a fair and objective report to answer the questions,” Antonovich said. Molina said she discovered that new procedures designed to reduce costs were not being followed after a federal jury in February awarded $18 million to middle school teacher Raul Ramirez, who claimed a sheriff’s detective falsely accused him of assaulting a teenage girl and covered up evidence that would have cleared him. It was the largest verdict ever against the Sheriff’s Department. The county later settled the lawsuit for $9 million. “We found this out in closed session,” said Molina, who asked the auditor earlier this year to determine whether new litigation management procedures were being followed. “That’s what started us to question to go back and see if the protocols were being followed.” Near the end of the heated debate, Supervisors Yvonne Brathwaite Burke and Don Knabe introduced a motion asking McCauley’s office to conduct the investigation. After the county’s legal costs for judgments and settlements hit a record high of $63 million in 2001-02, Molina and Burke urged the county to hire a litigation cost manager to help bring the costs down. After Nagle was hired in 2003, the costs dropped to a low of $26 million in 2003-04, a 58 percent decrease. But after two consecutive years of declining costs, the tab soared more than 50 percent to $41 million last fiscal year, Molina said. Fortner said a more accurate figure is $38 million, explaining that the county paid and collected about $2.5 million on one case. During this period, the amount of money the County Counsel’s Office paid outside law firms also hit a record $51 million in 2002-03, dropping to $37 million in 2004-05. [email protected] (213) 974-8985160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORECalifornia’s bungled $1 billion accounting system Fortner gave supervisors a 29-page rebuttal to Nagle’s allegations. He declined to divulge information in the rebuttal – citing “sensitive personnel information” – but said Nagle’s allegations are without merit. He also said he plans to cooperate with Auditor-Controller Tyler McCauley in the investigation and disputed Molina’s contention his office is in turmoil. “I would say very directly that our office is working well and everyone is going in the same direction,” Fortner said. “There is not warfare in the office of the county counsel.” The issue of how to investigate, however, divided the supervisors, who traded a barrage of vehement views. Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky railed at a motion by supervisors Molina and Michael D. Antonovich for an independent investigation into the allegations. After a rare and fiery debate, Los Angeles County’s Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to direct the county auditor to investigate allegations the County Counsel’s Office manipulated reports to hide deteriorating litigation and trial results. The unusual request for an investigation into a department head follows the firing of litigation cost Manager Robert E. Nagle of Agoura Hills, who helped cut the county’s litigation costs in half in recent years. Nagle has appealed his firing to the supervisors, alleging County Counsel Ray Fortner’s office hid information about rising costs, failed to comply with cost-cutting policies and didn’t notify the supervisors about conflicts of interest. “The problem now is about trust,” Supervisor Gloria Molina said. “If there is anyone you are supposed to trust, it’s your lawyer. But there are two sides to this. There is no doubt, whether we admit it or not, there is warfare going on in the County Counsel’s Office.” last_img

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