ERIC PREVEN’S NOTEBOOK - Mercedes Marquez is the Mayor Bass's new homeless czarina, announced that the L.A. Grand Hotel will stay open until January 31, 2024. She's is a wheeler dealer and highly experienced practitioner, strategist, and innovator with more than 30 years of leadership and public service, executive coaching and real estate development.
I was left hanging again at City Hall that is has become a hot spot for various first amendment activities and so very hard to get a ticket. The big event, Kenneth Mejia, who bested Koretz in shuffle board, addressed the council.
Unfortunately, I missed it, due to being preoccupied with due process considerations, but when I heard the reports about the council changing tack re: law enforcement, I became misty-eyed.
Norman Mailer once said "If a person is not talented enough to be a novelist, not smart enough to be a lawyer, and his hands are too shaky to perform operations, he becomes a journalist."
Shia Labeouf had apparently been studying Robert Faturechi, an LA Times reporter covering the American Civil Liberties Union's findings about excessive force in the county jail, for a role he was going to play in The Company You Keep.
Faturechi wore a thin necktie and a distinctive noir-ish trench coat, perhaps as protection against the spray of horrible revelations coming out about Sheriff Lee Baca, who Zev Yaroslavsky almost always referred to as the "greatest Sheriff in America." This two Sheriffs before before Alex Villanueva.
This was a period in county history when the onscreen chemistry between Lee Baca and Supervisor Gloria Molina was nasty.
By comparison, Sheila Kuehl and Sheriff Alex Villanueva appeared to be preening lovebirds.
One meeting, Molina asked a point-blank question of staff about the James Austin report--an early proposal to NOT rebuild Men's Central by reducing and distributing the jail population to smaller facilities. They had no idea, I texted a young ACLU lawyer who I'd noticed deliverIng sharp public comments.
The ACLU immediately texted me back! Starstruck is too strong, and who cares about Shia Labeouf, the frickin' ACLU is my bestie.
As an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, I had been inspired by a course in Constitutional law. By graduation I was arguing with my own mother about the importance of Nazis being allowed to march in Skokie; I would accept an RGB head bobble.
Obviously, in this day and age, the organization appears to be advocating too much and helping to cancel certain types of unpopular speech, while raising increasingly impressive amounts of money because, as the slogan goes, "The rights can't defend themselves."
The Citizens' Commission on Jail Violence [CCJV] was a response by Zev Yaroslavsky and the County Board of Supervisors.
It was absolutely yet another commission on jail violence.
Rev. Dr. Cecil “Chip” Murray was brought in by Mark Ridley-Thomas to repeat what Lord Acton had said so many years ago, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Amen.
Miriam Aroni Krinsky (former Ethics Commissioner at City Hall/Red Flag) distinguished herself as Executive Director by posting transcripts of CCJV hearings, under the threat of public harassment. And the whole county had to wear a Faturechi-like trenchcoat, because of the horrific tales of brutality that came out thanks to the heroic ACLU.
A ruddy Jim McDonnell, then sporting the Long Beach PD uniform, sat among the forgettable CCJVists. [Question: How does a Police Chief pass for a "citizen?" Answer: Rumor has it Mitchell Englander is on the short list to replace Michel Moore as Chief of Police.]
And just like that after several years holed up in the fancy but donated Munger Tolles & Olson Offices, 63 recommendations popped out of the county toaster resulting, according to the county, in a clean bill of health... for the county.
Never mind that the custody manual had NOT been re-written as requested and a CPRA found instructions in the then and still current manual for 'arcing' a taser' -- something like cracking a whip -- to gain the compliance of an obstinate inmate.
A parade of probono attorneys got in line to receive sparkly thank yous from a radiant Krinsky and the man who later turned out to indeed be Mr. Ridley-Thomas's lawyer, the original chip off the old Robert Bonner, Dick Drooyan.
Zev liked to quote John Wooden, “Never mistake activity for achievement."
This quote was equally useful either as self-congratulations for his own brilliant, CCJV commission or could easily be re-routined to denigrate the Oversight Commission sponsored by his longtime frenemy, Mark Ridley-Thomas. Now, the COC still led by the Inspector General Max Huntsman, who has proven beyond the shadow of a doubt, he cannot hunt.
Local Governance Tool:
One thing Zev and MRT could agree on was that Richard Drooyan was a highly effective local governance tool. There is not a disturbing fact set or appalling set of failures that Drooyan cannot repack as some kind of improvement.
Extreme Tasering facts... could be couched as inconclusive investigations pending a backlog. His quarterly soliloquies about the four-year effort to hook up the grievance Ipads was mesmerizing.
By yammering in his signature fashion as a matter-of-fact military-style lawyer, he could lull even the most alert promising journalist into a catnap. Faturechi left for Propublica.
As the Chief Counsel of the CCJV, the Implementation Monitor over the CCJV, and the Court Appointed monitor over Rosas litigation, Drooyan always had the same key recommendation: More and continuing robust monitoring. Stat.
Love at first comment
In retrospect, it was dysfunctional from the get-go.
We started dating when Peter Eliasberg got a glimpse of my rather large catalog of lawsuits against the County and the Sheriff's department for disgusting jail violence.
When, I drafted a CPRA asking for billing invoices from the private law firms working for the county, who had been recommending a 'scorched earth' litigation strategy against jailhouse violence lawsuits, the ACLU and I agreed to start seeing one another.
The ACLU hired Davis Wright Tremaine, a well-regarded law firm, to help us extract the billing records.
Our first date was in Superior Court, it was fantastic. The Honorable Luis A. Lavin, of Dept. 82 was presiding and we got a very good result but there was a disagreement about getting Richard Drooyan's contract.
And there was a small question about whose lawyer Drooyan actually was.
One day while airing several grievances, I referred to Mr. Drooyan as "obviously the Board's lawyer," who has "attorney/client privilege to the Board."
Mark Ridley-Thomas wrote in his historic declaration, "I believed Mr. Preven's statement was incorrect and said so. After Mr. Preven's time had expired, I expanded on my comment, stating: "When you refer to Mr. Drooyan being our lawyer, that is incorrect. He is a consultant with respect to the implementation of the recommendations made by [the] Citizens Commission on Jail Violence."
"At the time I made the above remarks, I believed them to be correct," MRT wrote, "I was and am very familiar with Mr. Drooyan's activities as the Commission's Implementation Monitor. In fact, I recommended and prepared the motion that he be appointed to that position!"
"The truth is that the attorney-client privilege — an important right for individuals — is a scourge to the people’s interest when invoked by public entities."
At the Appellate court, where a doppelganger for Mike Antonovich, named Judge Aldrich delivered a predictable setback.
There was a brief worry that it would cost too much, but we renewed our vows and agreed to challenge the ruling.
Half a loaf
Finally, that crisp morning in San Francisco, taking pictures together on the steps of the California Supreme Court... I wondered aloud if my $135 dollars for my plane ticket would fit in the ACLU foundation's massive budget. No, obviously not.
The decision came down a few weeks later: the scope of the attorney-client privilege had been clarified and finally we, the ACLU and Preven were vindicated -- the county would have to show the invoices for cases. Only for cases that were closed.
The Supreme Court Opinion - Filed 12/29/16. The imperative of protecting privileged communications between attorney and client –– and thereby promoting full and frank discussion between them –– is a defining feature of our law.
Instead, the contents of an invoice are privileged only if they either communicate information for the purpose of legal consultation or risk exposing information that was communicated for such a purpose. This latter category includes any invoice that reflects work in active and ongoing litigation.
The public had questions about the historic ruling, like if the county doesn't want to disclose what they're paying to eg. Skip Miller to disembowel a critic or eviscerate an alleged victim, what prevents them from just saying to the requestor: "Thank you for interest in County Government, the case is active and ongoing."
I thought at minimum before we called a wrap on the case, the public should have a clear understanding of the invoices that we had sought.
This seemed to annoy the lawyers as if all that was beside the point.
It was a classic Broadcast News moment ... Station manager Peter Hakes tells Producer Holly Hunter: It must be nice to always believe you know better, to always think you're the smartest person in the room.
Holly Hunter steals the movie with her reply, "No. It's awful."
Since the ACLU didn't want to help me get the Drooyan contract, I pursued it on my own, uncovering over $1.6M paid to him for 'attorney-client privileged' monitoring, more by now.
Never mind that Drooyan had advertised himself as probono. Nicole Davis-Tinkham was forced to authorize the county to pay my attorney $35,000 before releasing the records, so not exactly compliance and provision.
Despite my differences with the ACLU, I was adamant that the county pay the ACLU and the attorneys from Davis Wright Tremaine for all their work fighting the county's private attorney, Tim Coates of Greines Stein, who had never lost a case until ACLU/Preven.
I wanted to be sure they got their attorneys' fees covered by the county because otherwise other litigants might be reluctant to enforce the CPRA against the county.
The ACLU and Rochelle Wilcox of Davis Wright Tremaine felt that they were not due any fees, and if I pursued it further, they would quit being my lawyer.
Oui, je t'ai quitté et j'ai beau résister (Yes, I left you and there’s no use in holding on)
After a breathtaking journey together it became clear that despite a strong shared vision for improvements to the criminal justice system.
The ACLU was ready to move on.
We ran into each other several times at Supervisors' meetings, where the ACLU seemed more interested in chatting up Dr. Christina Ghaly of DHS than jail violence.
I took a deep dive into the lawyer invoices and found double-billing, lousy record keeping, and shocking discrepancies.
My public record act request to review the Custody Division Manual has been stonewalled. Villanueva has been no better. We will see about Robert Luna.
One case, that the county held out until the last minute was the mother lode.
The case was called Heriberto Rodriguez v. The Board of Supervisors had kicked the case down the road for nearly a decade with specious appeals over qualified immunity, costing over ten million in legal fees but even more in integrity.
You can see mighty shero, Caitlin Weisberg of Mclane Bednarski + Litt, LLP arguing before a panel of judges at the ninth circuit. This cost taxpayers nearly $10M in legal fees but even more in integrity.
In July 2019, Los Angeles County agreed to pay $54 million, the largest settlement payout on record in county history to end a lawsuit over search practices at the Sheriff’s Department’s Century Regional Detention Facility.
(Eric Preven is a longtime community activist and is a contributor to CityWatch. The opinions expressed by Eric Preven are solely his and not the opinions of CityWatch)