Monday, April 15, 2002
Former LAPD Chief Williams’ Lawyer Says:
Parks May Have Grounds to Sue Commission for Defamation
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
The lawyer who represented ex-LAPD Chief Willie Williams said Friday that current Chief Bernard Parks may have grounds to sue the Police Commission for defamation over several commissioners’ public remarks attacking the chief’s integrity in relation to a job performance evaluation he submitted to the commission.
“The chief could conceivably claim there’s been interference with prospective economic relationships and that he’s been defamed,” attorney Melanie Lomax said, adding:
“A chief of police is nothing without his integrity.”
Parks on Friday said he retained Gloria Allred’s law firm, Allred Maroko & Goldberg, while he lobbies the City Council to reverse the commission’s decision not to reappoint him. Attorney Nathan Goldberg said there are no immediate plans for Parks to sue the city or the commission.
But Lomax, who represented Williams in his failed 1997 bid for reappointment and said she has been in discussions with the current chief, said the 58-year-old Parks still has a long career in law enforcement career ahead of him and that the comments by the commissioners are damaging to his reputation and making the city vulnerable to litigation.
After losing his bid for reappointment, Williams considered suing but then agreed to a $375,000 settlement to leave office early. Parks was appointed to replace him.
Last week the commission voted 4-1 to reject Parks’ bid for a second term, citing a rising crime rate, continued low officer morale, and a mass exodus of officers which they contributed to Parks’ inflexibility.
At the center of the latest controversy over the commission’s decision is a favorable 2001 evaluation of Parks’ performance on the job that was signed and dated by then-Police Commission President Raquelle de la Rocha.
Parks quoted from the evaluation in making his presentation to the commission, which commission Executive Director Joe Gunn was nestled alongside other evaluations which had been approved by the previous commission.
After the announcement Tuesday, commission President Rick Caruso was quoted as saying Parks’ use of the document, which he called “misleading,” was a “pivotal” issue in his decision to vote against Parks.
“He has been less than forthcoming,” Caruso said Tuesday. “It has an issue of character and integrity in dealing with the commission.”
But Parks said he was never allowed to give his side of the story explaining his inclusion of the evaluation.
On Friday Parks accused the commission of personally attacking him in the media “for no other reason than to smear my name.”
“We believe that this entire process has been extremely unfair to the chief and in the last few days a new low was reached when Chief Parks was subjected to a vicious smear campaign that dared to attack his integrity,” Goldberg said.
Goldberg said there is nothing in the evaluation, which covered the first seven months of 2001 and was complimentary of Parks, that would indicate it was not an official evaluation by the entire commission.
But de la Rocha, now of the downtown law firm Lamb & Baute, said she told Parks when he called her to ask for the evaluation in February that it represented her opinion only. De la Rocha said she never had an opportunity to bring her evaluation of Parks in front of the full commission before the new panel was seated in August. The report never became official, she said.
“I explicitly told him it was merely my opinion and it wasn’t approved by the commission,” de la Rocha told the METNEWS.
De la Rocha said she sent Parks her evaluation with the understanding that he would represent the document as her opinion of his performance as chief and not that of the entire commission.
“Whatever faults I might have, one of them is not my integrity,” Parks said.
Parks is personally footing the bill for the legal services of Allred Maroko & Goldberg.
A spokeswoman for the City Attorney’s Office said it had not received notice of any suit by the Parks.
If there is notice of a suit, the City Attorney’s Office would then make the decision whether to handle it in-house or retain outside counsel, spokeswoman Mary McGuire said.
The City Council can overturn the commission’s action if it first votes to take jurisdiction and then votes to rehire Parks for another five-year term. Each action would require a 10-vote supermajority.
Parks will appear in front of the City Council tomorrow to present his case. Then on Wednesday the council will consider a motion to assert jurisdiction. The deadline for the council to take jurisdiction is Friday.
Lomax argued the comments made by the commissioners not only jeopardize his chances for future employment, but also hinder any progress he could make while still making his way through the reappointment process.
“I think they are going way out of their way in trying to smear him so he doesn’t stand a chance in council and [to] destroy him publicly,” Lomax said.
Councilman Nate Holden, who introduced the motion to have Parks speak, said he wants the public to hear what Parks has to say.
“I put in the motion so the chief would have the opportunity to say in public what he didn’t have the opportunity to say in private,” Holden, a staunch Parks supporter, said.
Parks had asked the commission to hold his reappointment hearing in open session, an idea that was quickly squashed by the commission who balked at the idea of not being able to question Parks on internal personnel matters, something that would be excluded by law at a public hearing.
Holden said Parks would be allowed all the time he needs to make his case.
A larger than normal crowd is expected for the council’s Tuesday and Wednesday meetings, David Gershwin, a spokesman for Council President Alex Padilla, said.
Lomax said while Parks is not willing to give up the fight, addressing the council will probably not help him retain his job.
“Many have described the affair with the City Council as an exercise of futility,” Lomax said. “I’m inclined to agree. I have to reluctantly conclude that this is a done deal.”
Lomax said there are just too many council members who have publicly stated they would not support Parks to make a trip to council worthwhile.
“I don’t know,” Holden said of the number of council members who support Parks. “I know it’s not 10, but things change every day.”
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company