Friday, June 30, 2006
District Attorney’s Office Probing Prosecutor Over Alleged Threats
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
The District Attorney’s Office has launched an internal personnel inquiry into charges that Deputy District Attorney Eric Perrodin, who is also the mayor of Compton, threatened retaliation against a newspaper that published an account of possible overbilling by a consultant to the city, the METNEWS has learned.
The investigation follows publication in Wednesday’s edition of The Compton Bulletin of an account of a June 22 meeting with City Hall staffers and two consultants. Lisa Grace-Kellogg, publisher of the Bulletin, said the account was provided by the mayor’s spokesperson, Chico Norwood.
Grace-Kellogg is also general counsel of the Metropolitan News Company, which publishes the METNEWS.
Norwood related that the mayor called Grace-Kellogg “just a white girl who lives in Malibu” and threatened to “play the race card” and to cancel an advertising contract between the city and the newspaper, Grace-Kellogg said.
Perrodin did not return a METNEWS phone call.
What aroused the mayor’s ire, Grace-Kellogg said, was the Bulletin’s reporting that public relations consultant Harless Cowan & Associates had overbilled the city for services following an investigation of records obtained through the California Public Records Act.
According to sources, he also accused a fellow city council member of leaking a confidential memo sent to the city manager’s officer by City Attorney Legrand Clegg in which Clegg asked for a raise.
Last week’s incident was not the first time Perrodin has threatened the newspaper with retaliation for its content, the publisher said. In July 2005, she said, a member of the mayor’s staff contacted her on her cell phone and indicated the mayor was upset that the newspaper had published quotes by William Kemp, a then-candidate for the City Council. The staff member indicated that if the content of the newspaper didn’t change, “things would be made very unpleasant” for her, Grace-Kellogg said.
At a subsequent meeting, she said, the mayor indicated that he did not intend the statement to be perceived as a threat. Perrodin acknowledged, however, that he had directed the city manager to pull the newspaper’s legal advertising contract off of the city council agenda and that he had explored placing legal advertising in another newspaper as the result of his displeasure over certain articles, Grace-Kellogg said.
Federal court rulings, including a 1996 U.S. Supreme Court ruling regarding a county trash collection contract, have said that the First Amendment protects a government contractor from retaliation for the exercise of free speech and free press rights. The plaintiff in that case, Board of County Commissioners v. Umbehr, lost the contract after he criticized county commissioners in his weekly newspaper column.
Grace-Kellogg said she hopes the matter can be resolved amicably. “The ball is in [Perrodin’s] court,” she said.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company