Tuesday, April 30, 2002
Delgadillo Blasts Hahn’s Budget, Says Mid-Year Requests Inevitable
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo yesterday lashed out at Mayor James Hahn for failing to provide money to replace the “Stone Age” technology the office currently uses and for stopping short of fully funding programs like neighborhood prosecutors by setting aside money for salaries, but not basic supplies like pens or legal pads.
Delgadillo appeared outwardly combative as he recited item after item that his office was denied in Hahn’s budget and warned the City Council Budget and Finance Committee in its first day of budget hearings that mid-year and end-year budget requests from his office were inevitable if the mayor’s budget is approved as is.
“We’re doing the best we can with the resources we have, but we must do better,” Delgadillo said.
The city attorney thanked Hahn for providing salaries for the office’s new Neighborhood Prosecutors Program, but told the committee the program would be unable to perform to its full potential if it is not given more money.
The program, which rolled out March 1, puts one lawyer in each of the city’s 18 police divisions to coordinate prosecution of nuisance crimes, such as loitering, graffiti, abandoned cars, unsafe buildings and drinking in public. In addition to the 18 lawyers, there are provisions in Hahn’s budget for 18 support staff and 7 positions to be added to the Citywide Nuisance Abatement Program which will work hand in hand with the prosecutors to rid Los Angeles neighborhoods of “quality-of-life” crimes.
Delgadillo originally lobbied the mayor for $4.4 million to cover salaries and operating costs but Hahn put just $3.6 million budget for the program, a figure which Delgadillo said does not allow to pay for bar dues, mileage and money for supplies.
Deputy City Attorney George Cardona said the neighborhood prosecutors are working up to 80 hours a week, including driving 35 miles to attend community meetings at night to find out the crime problems in their area, and are being told they aren’t going to be paid for their mileage.
The program is in such dire straits that neighborhood prosecutors call Cardona to ask him how to get a legal pad or a pen, he said.
“To put it bluntly, they need the supplies to do their work,” Cardona said.
The $3.6 million also doesn’t cover the cost of telling city residents about the program, Delgadillo said. His office had asked for $300,000, but received nothing, Delgadillo said.
“Without the money to reach out to the community, how can we maximize the impact of these programs?” Delgadillo said asked.
Delgadillo also chastised Hahn for refusing to grant the office any significant amount of money to replace the “prehistoric” computers the office now uses.
Deputy City Attorney Claudia Culling described in great detail the problems the office has with technology, from being unable to open e-mail attachments, to faulty printers, to not being able to access criminal rap sheets from county databases.
Hahn’s budget does provide funds to replace 175 computers, but Culling said that simply isn’t enough.
“We can’t be chiseling our briefs in stone tablets,” Culling said. “We don’t have the time and the court won’t allow it.”
The City Attorney’s Office also asked for two additional attorneys for its gang unit, citing a 94 percent increase in gang-related homicides in the last three months over the five year average, and for three attorneys to be devoted to prosecuting gun crimes.
Cardona also urged the committee to approve an attorney to staff the anticipated downtown Community Court, which recently received a federal grant of nearly $1 million. The alternative court, modeled on the Van Nuys Community Court, is meant to address misdemeanor offenses such as graffiti, public drinking and vandalism.
Deputy City Attorney Patricia Tubert, who heads the office’s Municipal Branch, said her division needs increases in attorneys across the board, including an additional attorney to advise the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment to a full-time attorney for the Fire Department and another attorney for the Department of Recreation and Parks.
Cheryl White Mason, who head’s Delgadillo’s civil litigation team, also criticized the proposed budget for failing to fund additional staff for the police litigation section and staff to defend the city against lawsuits arising out of the Democratic National Convention.
“Two police division positions appear to be inadvertently eliminated from the blue book,” Delgadillo said.
“The cases against the Police Department, involving a variety of civil rights violations, are coming in at a rate from five to 15 cases per month,” Mason said.
The staff working in the police litigation are extremely overworked, she said.
“They can’t keep it up,” Mason said. “They actually are showing signs of fatigue. And they have opportunities outside of this office.”
Delgadillo was also critical of Hahn’s proposal to slash the office’s litigation costs, which pay for expert witnesses, depositions and translation services. The City Attorney’s Office has consistently spent $6 million a year for the past six years for litigation, he said.
Delgadillo said in light of the city’s budget crisis, he asked for $5.75 million, but Hahn only budgeted $4.75 million, giving the office $1.25 million less than it has been spending in past years.
“This is simply not realistic given the history and given the fact that these costs are going up, not down,” Delgadillo said.
The office has also consistently spent nearly $9 million a year for the past six years on office and administrative expenses, which pays for training and library materials.
Delgadillo said the office must continue to invest in library materials because of the constant development of case law.
The office requested $835,000 to pay for office and administrative expenses, but Hahn provided less than $750,000, he said.
The committee asked for additional data and will make a recommendation to the full council, which may make amendments and is expected to approve a budget for the next fiscal year by the end of May.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company