Friday, January 23, 2004
Bid for Appellate Review of Rulings on Delgadillo Called Likely
By DAVID WATSON, Staff Writer
With demurrers challenging the authority of City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo to prosecute misdemeanors having been rejected in nearly every court in which the cases are filed, the Public Defender’s Office will likely seek appellate review of the rulings, Acting Assistant Public Defender for Operations John Vacca said yesterday.
Vacca said Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Brandlin, ruling in consolidated cases filed at the Airport court, yesterday overruled the demurrers, which assert that Delgadillo lacks authority to bring the prosecutions because at the time he was elected in 2001 he did not meet the qualifications for office set forth in the city charter. Judge Richard Rico, ruling on cases at the Bauchet Street Central Arraignment Court, reached the same conclusion Tuesday.
Rico said the issue of Delgadillo’s qualifications could be raised only in a quo warranto proceeding, not by demurrer.
A Jan. 9 column in the MetNews revealed that Delgadillo’s membership in the State Bar of California was inactive during three of the five years preceding his election. The City Charter requires that a candidate for city attorney have been “qualified to practice” for “at least five years immediately preceding” election.
Vacca said he was unsure whether Brandlin had adopted Rico’s reasoning or whether the judge had accepted the city’s argument that it was inappropriate to raise the issue by demurrer, since any deficiency in Delgadillo’s qualifications is not apparent on the face of the accusatory pleadings. The city has advanced both arguments in its opposition to the demurrers, which the Public Defender’s Office began filing in all misdemeanor cases last week.
The Airport court was the last in which a hearing on the demurrers had yet to take place, Vacca said. He explained that in most of the locations where misdemeanor prosecutions are filed, hearings were held on consolidated test cases.
In the Metropolitan courthouse and the Van Nuys courthouse, cases were not consolidated, but judges ruling on individual cases have uniformly rejected the demurrers, Vacca said.
The assistant public defender said that his office will continue to file the demurrers, but has agreed with the City Attorney’s Office not to seek a full hearing in each case. Instead, he said, a test case will probably be selected and review by the Superior Court’s Appellate Department sought.
“It’s my belief that we will take some action by way of appellate review,” Vacca said, though he acknowledged that Public Defender Michael Judge has not yet made a final decision.
Which case will be selected for review will depend on an evaluation of the transcripts of the hearings held on the demurrers, the assistant public defender said. That process, he noted, could take up to several weeks.
Also still to be determined, Vacca said, is whether writ review will be sought or if, instead, review will be sought by way of appeal after one of the prosecutions is concluded.
Vacca said his office has been concentrating on preserving the rights of its clients to mount challenges to their prosecutions based on the issue of Delgadillo’s qualifications, and has not had time to evaluate whether it would be appropriate for the public defender to ask Attorney General Bill Lockyer for authorization to bring a quo warranto challenge—or, if it is appropriate, whether the office would wish to do so.
“The issue of quo warranto is something that we have not really turned our attention to,” he said.
Vacca said litigation over the demurrers is unlikely to be impacted by a denial issued Wednesday by Mayor James Hahn’s office that Hahn, as city attorney, signed a document advising City Councilman Michael Feuer that inactive bar membership would not be disqualifying. Feuer finished second to Delgadillo in the election for city attorney and his bar membership was also inactive during a portion of the previous five years.
Delgadillo’s office has attached copies of the document to its opposition to the demurrers. But Vaca noted that the judges ruling on the demurrers have not reached the merits of the issue of Delgadillo’s qualifications, and thus have not had occasion to consider the document as evidence.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company