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A Season For Hope

ERIC PREVEN’S NOTEBOOOK - A hilarious Christmas story How Murray Saved Christmas from an Emmy award-winning writer of The Simpsons, Mike Reiss, follows the pattern of Night before Christmas. 

When Santa’s knocked out cold by a Jack-in-the-Boxer’s walloping punch, Murray Kleiner owner of Murray K's Holiday diner, reluctantly agrees to take his place. The suit doesn’t fit, Murray doesn't want to make the shlep, and there’s no way he can remember the names of all those reindeer.  

But with the help of a pushy Edison Elf and an eager-to-believe young kid, who challenges Murray to name his reindeer to see if he's a fake.  "There's Dumbo and Jumbo and Mason and Dixon, Cosmo and Kramer and Richard M. Nixon."  Murray looked at the kid, hopefully,  "You're a fake." the boy cried.  

But Murray feels bad, "There's a Santa and I've got the proof!" They went out on the lawn and looked up at the roof! "That's Santa's sleigh sitting there in the snow! There's the toys!  And the reindeer whose names I don't know!" 

Murray convinces Edison that he isn't just some funny guy in a suit, "But an honest-to-goodness Saint Nick substitute." 

It's a laugh out loud read and I highly recommend.  

And this is a hilarious Hope video from some family friends.  

 

DA Retaliation:

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón’s chief of staff was arrested by Azusa police on suspicion of public intoxication this month. Iniguez, who spent the night in jail, said his fiancé was briefly handcuffed and detained, but not arrested.  

Joseph Iniguez, a deputy prosecutor who serves as L.A. County Dist. Atty. George Gascón’s chief of staff, said hw "wanted to record to preserve whatever was going to happen between that officer and my fiancé, because he was not DUI.”  

After Gascón’s victory, Iniguez was elevated to serve as the office’s interim chief deputy prosecutor, effectively making him the second-in-command of the largest prosecutor’s office in the U.S.  

Recently, Gascón called on his former chief deputy in San Francisco, Sharon Woo, to take over, and Iniguez moved into the chief of staff role.  Sharon Woo is super-busy because she has not returned a single email or call about the sleepy public integrity division despite being featured prominently in several CityWatchLA reports. 

Iniguez  — an LGBTQ candidate who was critical of Lacey’s treatment of defendants of color  — alleged officers in Azusa arrested him as punishment for filming the encounter.  

Iniguez’s case was referred to the district attorney’s office to determine whether criminal charges should be filed but given the apparent conflict of interest created by Iniguez’s position in the D.A.'s office, the case likely will be redirected to the California attorney general’s office.  AG Bonta has been wicked busy, too.   

Who from the government is on the open government beat? 

 

Office of the Public Advocate:

The term Ombudsman derived from the Old Norse words umboth ("commission") and mathr ("man"). was borrowed from Swedish, where it means "representative." 

Apparently Swedish King Charles XII didn't trust his ministers way back in 1713, so he appointed an representative, to keep an eye on the royal officials of that day, because he was bogged down in various army campaigns and complex diplomatic issues.  

Not sure he was aware that a Russian monarch had pursued a similar strategy, as he sensibly commissioned a trusted deputy to scrutinize the conduct of his tax collectors, judges, and others who acted under his authority at home.   

Oversight is zeitgeisty. And contagious.  

A movement is underway in the great state of Maryland to re-inflate the idea of a Public Advocate. The legislation which has already been submitted to the statehouse there and will soon be sent to legislators, could be a model for the rest of the country, if it gets through the chambers and past Governor Hogan and onto the ballot in November 2022, 

Jumaane D. Williams is an American politician who has served as the New York City Public Advocate since 2019 was on the Zoom call to chime in.  A lot of electeds frequently ask, "why do we need another representative for the public, that's my job."    

Williams, said, people always say, "We already have this, we already have that..."

This is certainly true, here.  

Gilbert Cedillo of Council District One CD1 struck this false note recently, implying that Angelenos had elected him to serve on the Ad Hoc Olympic committee set up by Nury Martinez, and therefore must have wanted the City of Los Angeles to give LA's rights to a private company run by Casey Wasserman.  

The council member Kevin Deleon from CD14 has similarly implies, it’s already being done when he repeats, "We can't have any more commissioners or consultants" it's time to take strong action.  

Even the great Zev Yaroslavsky, currently filling in for Jessica Levinson when she needs away time from offering KCAL level punditry, reminds us of John Wooden's cautionary admonishment, “Never mistake activity for achievement."  

This quote was equally useful for Zev either as a self-congratulation 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, under federal indictment.  

But many of us in the public, feel that when the electeds are not doing what the public expects see: King of Sweden.  

Ralph Nadar was a law student in the 1960s, who spoke six languages and studied the Swedish ombudsman program. He brought it to Jamestown, New York, where a young Mark Joseph Green worked with him from 1970 to 1980.  

Green was New York City Consumer Affairs Commissioner from 1990 to 1993 and was elected New York City Public Advocate in 1993 and 1997.  

As Public Advocate, Green was reportedly one of the first public officials to draw attention to racial profiling by the NYPD and filed a lawsuit to obtain information about it in Rudy Giuliani's police force.  

Green was also the first to propose the 311-complaint helpline that Mayor Bloomberg later implemented.  

He wrote the city's matching fund law, created the Voter Commission, upheld the legality of the Independent Budget Office, and barred stores from charging women more than men for the same services. 

He also worked to prohibit companies from firing female employees merely because they were victims of domestic violence. 

And, he's credited with starting the City's first website, NYC.Gov, which he later gifted to City Hall, where it is still in use today. 

Like a Gov't Accountability Office (GAO) blowing the whistle on problems and providing alternatives...  

He told the group following the Maryland sponsored forum that, "before Rudy Giuliani became a pathetic criminal he was a very powerful mayor," and he'd tried to eliminate Green's office. He called the period exciting and noted that any Public Advocates (PA) office absolutely needs an "independent budget."  

He referred to his job back in the day as the "Charter Cop," charged with exposing misconduct.  

Here in Los Angeles, at the City there is an Ethics Commission, but they have a very narrow purview, by design.  

Paul Krekorian, the powerful chair of the Budget and Finance committee, remembers to immunize himself annually at the budget hearings, by reminding the Ethics Commission that he has "never not approved a budget request...from them."  

The county has no public advocate and routinely refuses to respond to anyone...  including, apparently, the paper of record. 

 

The Fourth Estate (District):

The Los Angeles Times (Times), sued in 2018 for records requested in several California Public Records Act (CPRA) requests that the Times had submitted to the County, related to complaints of sexual misconduct and/or sexual assault occurring within the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office; email addresses of county employees including work histories of eight county employees; and electronic information on homicide cases.   

This Tuesday, approximately, 3 years, 9 months later, the county agreed to pay $265,000 inclusive of attorneys' fees and costs to the Times, and their attorney Kelly Aviles. to settle the Matter Entitled, Los Angeles Times Communications LLC v. County of Los Angeles.

You won't find an article in the paper, but if you did they would very likely not reveal what is also true, that the county paid $292,531 in their own lawyer fees to get to the settlement of $265,000.    

The L.A. County government reporter did not report on this case, but when the Times does cover legal cases, they often leave out the cost of litigation.    

It's like a little favor to the board of supervisors who they adore.   

The Board of Supervisors also voted on Tuesday to re-establish a $10,000 reward in the disappearance and death of Mitrice Richardson.  The 24-year-old Cal State Fullerton graduate disappeared shortly after being released around midnight from the Malibu-Lost Hills Sheriff's Station in 2009 with no money, no purse, no cell phone and no car. No way to get home.  She was found dead 11 months later.  Join the Board, the Sheriff and ABC7 at 10pm Monday for a deep dive into this unsolved case.

 

Times Coverage (Unhelpful to the Sheriff)

Alene Tchekmedyian goes after the Sheriff hard and to her credit she's tenacious at trying to pin him down. She clearly wants the public to be informed about the serious criminal justice issues in LA county and she has certainly earned the respect of many readers.   

I wonder if she knows if Louis "Skip" Miller of Miller Barondess, LLP advised Alex Villanueva to quickly offer deputies amnesty if they deleted the photos taken at the site of the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash?

The sheriff insists he did the right thing, that his strategy was a success. The families of the victims never saw the grisly photos. Nearly two years have passed since the crash, and the images never hit the internet.   

Ralph Mendez, the star of Alene's recent article with Richard Winton and master storyteller Christopher Goffard, is a man photographed with his 2 year old daughter, Maya.  Mendez watched the Lakers play all his life and admired Kobe’s relationship with Gianna.  

At the time, Alene informed us, his fiancée was newly pregnant after an "excruciating 8 years of IVF."  There was a tugging at the heartstrings as one read the pointed Times coverage, “When I saw Kobe with Gianna, I knew that’s what I wanted. I had been yearning for that for a very long time”   

Mendez alerted the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department about what he heard, though he didn't hear it himself, he heard it second hand from a bartender.  Later that night, he found the Contact Us link for LASD, and submitted a note. 

This week, Alene was tweeting the raw interview she had with then-Captain Jorge Valdez, who said when asked if the Sheriff had seen the complaint, "We're such a large organization... if there is, it hasn't come down to our office."  

The written complaint came in three days later, but from that point on, for nearly five weeks, the leadership of the Sheriff’s Department tried to keep a lid on the episode.  

Patti Giggans, a good buddy of Sheila Kuehl who hates the Sheriff, then-chair of the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission, said she expected Villanueva to find out what happened in a timely way, but that the destruction of photos “looks like a cover-up of misconduct.”    

There’s an “inherent conflict of interest” when a department investigates itself, said Jessica Levinson, professor at Loyola Law School. 

“And let’s be honest, especially this department,” she said, while also criticizing how the allegations were handled initially. “The idea that sheriff’s [deputies] could get to keep their phones and pinky-swear to delete evidence is not how you go about this.”  

 

Times Coverage (Helpful to the supervisors) 
In the Times article about the county settling with the Grace Community Church over restrictions to their worship, I requested as a reader that they add a reference in the article to the nearly $950,000 in addition to the $400,000 settlement in attorneys fees and costs the county paid to the law firm of Miller Barondess, LLP. 

In my view, the public and readers deserved the actual costs associated with such litigations, which is why I was so pleased when the Daily News Editor agreed with me,  "Great point, Eric! I will add this.... "  

But the LA Times took a different tack.   

The Editors felt that mentioning that it cost almost a million dollars to go after a church with Skip Miller's law firm came down to an editorial judgment call and was not worthy of correction.   

Though, LA Times readers will be left with a mistaken impression that the litigation ONLY cost the county, $400,000. "Keep up the good work, and your fervor for the truth," Jaclyn wrote to me while declining to amend their report. 

I replied, "Forget about my fervor for the truth, read the last line of your article. “The church is not only a building but is the bride of Christ and exists to proclaim the truth.”  

Not sure how the above sentence makes it into a Times article, but he message came from the top. Not the tippy top.  Via Scott Kraft, by way of Shelby Grad and Cindy Chang and Steve Clow.  Kevin Merida and Patrick Soon Shiong are way too busy, like the Sheriff's department, "We're such a large organization..."

 

CitywatchLA coverage (Unhelpful to the Supervisors, Sheriff):

One of the attorneys, Luis Li, who represents Vanessa Bryant in a lawsuit against Los Angeles County and its Sheriff’s department, alleging officers who responded to the helicopter crash that killed her husband, took and shared personal photos of the scene, also represented the University of California in the “Varsity Blues” college admissions scandal. 

For many years he hung his hat at one of the county's go-to law firms, Munger Tolles & Olson.  

In November 2021, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati  P.C. brought on board a group of five former Munger, Tolles & Olson litigators in Los Angeles, including Luis Li.  

 

The Two Dicks:

Before I file a lawsuit, I like to customize the rhetorical heft of George VI, King of Great Britain and Ireland.  

"In this grave hour, I send to every resident this message, spoken with the same depth of feeling for each one of you as if I were able to cross your threshold and speak to you myself."  

It's a real tone setter.  

The King's speech was the subject of the 2010 Academy Award-winning film The King's Speech. It showed how George supported the wartime leadership of Winston Churchill, earning the respect of his people by scrupulously observing the responsibilities of a constitutional monarch and by overcoming stuttering.  

When I drafted up the King's speech for the first time I was frustrated with the two Dicks working for Los Angeles County Counsel.

Both Richard Volpert and Richard Drooyan, hung their hats over at  Munger Tolles and nobody seemed to care about the proximity. Munger Tolles & Olson even have an engraved acknowledgement of the firm (and its many unexamined invoices) and its civic generosity toward the Music Center.   

Munger, Tolles & Olson has been a major provider of legal services for the county and it offices in Los Angeles served as the physical home of the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence.  In fact Richard Drooyan, the man who was introduced as pro bono general counsel but eventually, it was revealed by me and an attorney under my hire, took well over $1.6M in just a few years, worked there.   

Richard Volpert, a real estate specialist, was the brains behind the privatization of the LA County Museum of Natural History also called it home. 

 

FREE: For You And Me!

The Museum should be FREE and open to the public, but it's not.   

The Natural History Museums of LA County recently postponed a groundbreaking for a community hub named after former Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.  

The entrance plaza had been designed to serve as a "front porch" of the community commons where residents would meet up to enjoy programs and events, officials said last year.  

So, it was also very sad, to hear about the 28 year old rapper, Drakeo the Ruler, whose real name was Darrell Caldwell, known for his offbeat cadence and jerky rhythm, was fatally stabbed last week during an altercation near the Banc of California Stadium in Exposition Park. Caldwell pioneered “nervous music,” a sub genre of rap that sounds sinister and contains cryptic lyrics. 

These are narratives...  

All too familiar, the New York Times reported this week, "born in Los Angeles and raised by a single mother, Mr. Caldwell has said in interviews that he spent much of his youth in correctional facilities. He thought of rap as a way to earn money and help his family."  

Whatever happens to Mark Ridley-Thomas, whose hearing has been moved to August from January, according to sources he was also trying to help his family.  

Richard Volpert advises the CEO and tries to help the county family.  

Incredulously, he was so powerful, he would have the conflict of interest language in his agreements explicitly removed.   About five or so years ago when he moved from Munger Tolles & Olson to Glaser Weil Fink Jacobs Howard Avchen & Shapiro LLP. 

He was instrumental in creating lease agreements in the Marina; on Grand Avenue project etc. then he left Munger Tolles & Olson. 

It reminded me of Don Knabe assuring the public that his own son's lobbying firm, lobbying the BOS was not a conflict of interest.  

The then-CEO, Bill Fujioka, swore that Volpert offers critical guidance that cannot be achieved by any of the 600+ employees of County Counsel; nor apparently any of the fifty or so Contract panel firms that charge $155/hour.   

For the longest time I thought that when the County got into a legal fight, we the people, were the 'County clients'.  When I asked a Civil rights attorney about that she wrote:  

"Your suggestion that the holder of the privilege should be any member of the public is an interesting one, but not one that I have seen adopted by any legal authority.  At the end of the day, though, members of the public should be able to access much of the billing records (though possibly in redacted form) simply as members of the public, not as holders of the privilege.  One related observation:  agencies sometimes invoke attorney-client privilege as if it prohibits them from disclosing material to which the privilege applies.  But as the holder of the privilege, the agency should be able to waive that privilege and one can imagine many situations in which it would be in the public's interest for the agency to do so."

 

Influential:  

The Board of Supervisors are very active and influential and don't mind putting their thumbs on a scale or two. This last week the Board approved a Five-Signature Letter Urging Rich’s Products Corporation to Bargain and Approve a Contract with The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union Local 37.  

Here's a case where a businessman, Ron Burkle takes a supervisor/council person, Mark Ridley-Thomas out to lunch. 

 

New Yorker excerpt:  

Also, "Burkle's approach to labor endeared him to Democratic politicians, and he cultivated every power base--local community activists, city-council members, state politicians, and union leaders-- so that he could build more freely, avoiding costly delays. "Ron played large in Democratic politics," Mark Ridley-Thomas, a Los Angeles county supervisor who was a city councilman in the nineties, said.   

At one point, Burkle wanted to build a store in Ridley-Thomas' district. "He was trying to build Food4Less stores aggressively, because they were more profitable--customers have to bag their own groceries and buy in bulk,"  Ridley-Thomas said. He argued for a full-service store.  Burkle invited him to lunch, and soon afterward, Willie Brown, the Speaker of the Assembly--who was also Burkle's lawyer--called Ridley-Thomas on his behalf.  Then, Ridley-Thomas said, Senator Bill Bradley spoke with him. (Bradley denies doing so.)   

In the end, Burkle built a full-service store, which Ridley-Thomas suggested was an unusual defeat. "I think Ron had become accustomed to being told yes by public officials," he said.  By 1994, Burkle had nearly three hundred stores."   Some may find Burkle's brazen attempt to influence MRT unsavory....  But if Ron Burkle were depositing half of a million dollars in Avis Ridley-Thomas' lobbying company or her son's?    

That was the Knabe version of family ties.

 

(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)