Minutes

LOS ANGELES CITY ATTORNEYS ASSOCIATION
DRAFT BOARD MEETING MINUTES

Meeting Date: January 17, 2002

Board Members Present: Shelley Smith (President), Liz Greenwood (Vice President), Jule Bishop (Treasurer), Judith Reel (Secretary), Bob Fratianne (Criminal Director), Marsha Berkowitz (Civil Director)

I. Old Business

A. Contract Negotiation:

Board members are prohibited from revealing the substantive issues discussed at MOU contract negotiations. However, a number of members present stated that there was a widespread perception throughout the office that negotiations were stalled on management’s insistence on a provision for bonus pay as a performance reward. Accordingly, the Board received a number of comments from members on the general issue of bonus pay.

Strong concerns were expressed about management awarding bonuses in lieu of merit steps and promotion. There was a consensus that any bonus pay system should be coupled with a contractual commitment to an office-wide merit /promotion process when funds are available. The specific views expressed included the following:

(1) Lack of good-faith reason for refusal to commit in writing to merit/promotion process: There was universal concern and conjecture about management’s refusal to specify any reason for refusing to commit in writing to office-wide merit/promotion processes when funds are available. The lack of any reason management is willing to articulate causes suspicion that a bonus pay program will inevitably be in lieu of a merit/promotion process which benefits the work-group as a whole.

(2) Bonus pay benefits short-term employees at the expense of career attorneys: Merit steps and promotions become part of an attorney’s base pay for purposes of future salary increases and calculations of retirement pay. Thus, the merit/promotion process effectively rewards career attorneys. Bonus pay favors those who intend to be in the office only briefly. Thus, management’s insistence on bonus pay ability raises profound questions about whether the City Attorney intends to change the character of the office from one that offers viable careers to qualified and capable attorneys to one that briefly harbors employees needing enhancement of their resumes. It was widely recognized that an orientation favoring short-term employees will constitute a sea-change in the character of the office that was established more than 25 years ago.

(3) Low Morale: There is a universal belief that management’s refusal to commit in writing to a merit/promotion process exacerbates low morale among the attorneys. Management apparently believes that it is in a better position to assess attorney morale than are the elected representatives.

(4) Legal and Ethical Concerns: There was concern expressed regarding the legality of a bonus program, since under California Constitution, Article XI, Section 10(a), a local government may not award extra compensation to a public employee for services already performed. There were also concerns expressed regarding the lack of any guidelines regarding how the awards would be made, and the ethical implications raised by an unfettered right to monetarily reward public attorneys. For example, there was fear that criminal prosecutors would be paid for winning cases, and punished for dismissals.

B. Public Records Act Request:

On December 18, 2001, Judith Reel delivered to Terree Bowers a written request to provide the Association with the documents the Office gave to the Daily Journal pertaining to the McKinsey & Co. audit and documents identifying all persons hired by City Attorney Delgadillo.

Ms. Reel received on January 14, 2002, from Mr. Bowers two documents which he represented were all of the material provided to the Daily Journal relative to the McKinsey & Co. audit. The Association issued a Notice informing the membership of receipt of the documents, and the documents are available for distribution to Association members upon request. The documents are generic, and critical of the quality and performance of city attorneys. The Board decided to defer a Public Records Act demand for the underlying documents, e.g., interviews with judges, clients, and Office supervisors, at this time because the Board does not presently find that there is a fully developed present need to put those documents in the public domain. The Board can and will revisit the ability to demand these materials if and when there is an apparent need for them.

In January of 2002, Shelley Smith was given a copy of a membership list by the CAO (Chief Accounting Office) updating all the members in the current MOU. C. Location of Board Meetings

Non-Board members present expressed a preference for continuing to have Board meetings at the DWP building, stating that it is much easier to get to the DWP building than to get to the Association’s Figueroa Street office at 5:00 pm on a workday. Some Board members stated that it was advantageous to meet at Figueroa Street since Association documents are located there, but the Board deferred to the non-Board members’ preference and agreed for the present to hold near-term future meetings at DWP.

The next Board meeting will be held on Tuesday, February 12, at 5:00 p.m. at the DWP building.

D. Web Site

Jule Bishop reported that the web site (www.lacaassoc.com) should be available for viewing within the next two weeks. Content additions are in progress.

The Board decided not to put the Association’s financial information on the website, since the Board does not want management and other non-Association members to have access to information regarding the Association’s financial health. Ms. Bishop stated that the Association’s annual audit statements have always been available to Association members on request, and that anyone desiring to see such information should contact Ms. Bishop.

II. New Business

A. Constituent Outreach

The Board decided to attempt to meet with all deputy and assistant city attorneys in order to elicit their specific concerns regarding contract negotiations and Office practices and policies. In the last two weeks, Board members have met at lunchtime with criminal attorneys on the 16th floor of City Hall East, with DWP attorneys, and with the Special Litigation Division. The next meetings will be scheduled with attorneys working at or near Van Nuys, and with attorneys working at San Pedro, Harbor and Reyes.

At the three meetings held thus far, and during informal discussions with other individual deputies, there has been virtually unanimous opposition to bonus pay as a performance incentive absent a written agreement by management to also engage in a merit/promotion process when funds are available.

At the Board meeting, a question was posed about why the membership distrusts management’s verbal commitment to engage in merit/promotion process, and what caused the wide-spread perception that management is hostile to the attorneys who were employed under the previous administration. In response, the following factors were identified:

(1) It is widely believed that early in the contract negotiation process management expressed a desire to eliminate attorney tenure, thus enabling management the ability to fire attorneys without the full course of cause and process presently required. The workforce finds it stunning and extraordinary that, with all of the urgent and complex public policy issues confronting a newly elected City Attorney, a first priority identified and articulated was achieving the ability to terminate all of the existing career professional staff ;

(2) Management’s generalized and harsh public statements to the press about the quality of attorneys in the office, even before the managers making such statements could have acquired any first-hand experience with any representative number of the attorney workforce;

(3) The refusal of the City Attorney and executive management to meet with the Board until the Board made plain its intention to file an unfair labor complaint about their refusal to meet, and the patent disrespect toward all of the attorneys in the office implicit in that refusal;

(4) Management’s hiring of senior personnel who have no public sector attorney experience, and, especially, at a rate and on a scale that precludes for an extended period of time promotions and/or merit step advancement for attorney staff .

B. Board Minutes

Last month Secretary Judith Reel posted minutes within two weeks after the Board meeting, before the minutes were formally approved at the following Board meeting. This was done because the elections results and discussions required immediate promulgation.

The Board has agreed that in order to timely inform the membership of the events at the Board meetings, Ms. Reel will post as soon as minutes are prepared and reviewed by those in attendance. However, minutes posted before adoption of the Board will be identified in writing on the first page.

There was also discussion about the level of detail to be set forth in the minutes. It was agreed that detailed minutes are generally more useful to the membership, but that members attending and speaking at the Board meetings will not be identified so that there need be no fear of attribution or managerial attention.

C. Employee Discipline and Grievances

Christine McCall, designated grievance representative pursuant to the M.O.U. stated that the Office has again relieved another attorney of duty with pay. It was stated that despite the continued pay, being suspended for an indefinite period without procedural recourse is an isolating and emotionally debilitating experience, with profound consequences to one’s professional skills and reputation. McCall stated that this is not an isolated occurrence by management, there have been instances where suspension with pay extended for months and even years, and management’s recourse to this "remedy" raises concerns regarding management’s habitual utilization of a disciplinary procedure not provided for and without procedural safeguards.

The Board was asked to consider the matter and discuss at a later date whether and how best to redress the issue.

III. PAC

The Board’s PAC convened and voted to contribute $500.00 to Council member Janice Hahn’s office-holder account if it has not yet done so this year.

 

As you know, our new MOU includes annual reimbursement for MCLE-related expenses. To ensure that you receive complete and timely reimbursement, we encourage you to follow the instructions contained in the MCLE protocol provided by City Attorney Management. You must complete and submit a reimbursement form in order to receive reimbursement.

You can reimburse expenses related to attending MCLE programs that are accepted by the California State Bar, even if the program takes place in another state. Eligible expenses include the cost of the program, travel, and per diems.

Please be judicious when choosing lodging and which food/drink expenses you submit for reimbursement.


The Board is pleased to announce that LACAA has retained the law firm of MASTAGNI, HOLSTEDT, AMICK, MILLER & JOHNSEN as General Counsel.


To sign up for the LACAA newsletter and email updates from Oscar Winslow,
LACAA's President, send a request to lacaapresident@gmail.com.