Friday, December 14, 2001
Delgadillo Seeks More Funding, Promises Big Returns
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo yesterday asked for five more lawyers, plus two surveillance vans equipped with curtains and cameras, to crack down on what he called abuse of the workers’ compensation system by city employees.
“We are focused on bringing down the cost of workers’ compensation fraud,” Delgadillo told the MetNews.
The proposal is part of a mid-year budget request to improve collection of outstanding debts and rein in skyrocketing liability and workers’ compensation costs.
The package would cost close to $1 million and comes at a time when city budget officials are struggling to keep up with the rapid drop in revenues since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the East Coast slashed airport traffic and put a damper on local business.
But Delgadillo said the investment would more than pay for itself by creating about $5 million in savings and increased collections.
“I have always said the best time to invest is when you’re at the bottom of the cycle, not the top,” Delgadillo said.
The cost of workers’ compensation claims filed by city employees this year is expected to reach $110 million, up from $98 million in 2000.
Delgadillo said his office is far too understaffed to do an adequate job on workers’ comp. Lawyers handling claims at the airport, which operates on an independent budget, currently have a caseload of about 250—far smaller than the 400 that lawyers for the rest of the city carry.
The five new lawyers would reduce the caseload to the airport’s level.
Delgadillo also is asking for four non-lawyer hearing representatives to relieve higher-cost attorneys from participating in mandatory settlement conferences, two legal secretaries, and two investigators, along with the vans and surveillance equipment.
Julie Butcher, general manager of Service Employees International Local 347—the largest union of civilian Los Angeles city employees—scoffed at the request.
“More lawyers?” she said. “Most jurisdictions are looking at reducing the number of lawyers involved in the process to reduce costs. And fraud? There’s no fraud problem. Where we could really use the city attorney’s help is advising the departments on their duty of reasonable accommodation for injured workers.”
Butcher noted that the city has a return-to-work policy, meaning injured employees will be put to work in a less-demanding capacity until they physically are capable of returning to their old jobs.
“If you’re not in a full body cast we have a job for you,” Butcher said.
She also said her union has worked for several years to reduce workers’ compensation costs by increasing the city’s safety staff and educating workers and their employers on how best to avoid injuries.
“Other than grabbing headlines I don’t know what [Delgadillo’s] doing,” Butcher said.
Delgadillo acknowledged that the union has “tried to provide training to prevent accidents from happening.”
City attorney staff places the cost for the workers’ compensation enhancements at $559,403 for the next six months. He said the program would bring “millions in annual savings.”
Delgadillo also asked for $212,681 to improve the city’s risk management program, to pay for a program chief, a legal advisor and two risk management analysts. There would be a “significant long-term impact” in savings from the program, according to a City Attorney’s Office summary.
To enhance collections, Delgadillo is asking for $180,823, to pay for another deputy city attorney, a legal secretary, two investigators and an accounting clerk. The return, according to the office summary, would be $2 million in added revenues and recovered costs.
Delgadillo said there is already a savings of $10 million in unused money from a reserve set aside for Rampart litigation. The City Council may decide to hold that money over for next year’s Rampart account or can spend it elsewhere.
The requests are just the latest in a series of funding enhancements sought by the city attorney during the economic downturn.
On Wednesday, the council’s budget panel approved hiring of three new lawyers and four new support staff to handle litigation arising from the Democratic National Convention. Delgadillo’s top deputy, Terree Bowers, took a tough stance at the session in arguing for the new hires.
“Our request was very bare-bones,” Bowers said. “We didn’t come in here to trade and negotiate with you.”
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company