How 'bout a little conflict check?
Dear Mr. Delgadillo:
For a number of years now, the residents of the Sunland – Tujunga area of the City of Los Angeles have been witnessing, and subject to, Home Depot’s devious tactics to avoid compliance with our Foothill Boulevard Corridor Specific Plan and mitigating the obvious impacts of a "Big Box" project. The Sunland–Tujunga Alliance, Inc. - No Home Depot Campaign is an informal
grassroots association made up of thousands of residents, businesses and property owners in the Foothills Community of the City of Los Angeles. We filed the LA Municipal Code §12.26(K) challenge to the Los Angeles Department of Building & Safety determination that this construction work to build a new Home Depot store in Sunland was not a “Project” under the Foothill Boulevard Corridor Specific Plan.
After the March 9, 2007 detailed decision by the Zoning Administrator, who agreed with our structural engineers and experts, Home Depot stepped up its clandestine efforts to derail and overturn our challenge. Home Depot hired PR firms to distort the facts, bused in paid and
disinterested people from out of the Sunland area to pack the various hearings, and fabricated bogus and inflammatory “conscience” issues, etc. We were informed that representatives
of Home Depot privately met with each of the North Valley Area Planning Commissioners prior to the June 7, 2007 hearing, to pressure the Commissioners to grant their appeal. We were also
informed by the City that such ex parte contacts are improper and prohibited, let alone the questions such secret meetings raise about possible Brown Act violation concerns! We followed the rules while Home Depot and its representatives somehow seem to be exempt.
The law firm of Latham & Watkins has recently filed a lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles to overturn the City Council’s decision to honor our Specific Plan and to protect our environment by applying CEQA to this project. Latham & Watkins’ lawsuit claims $10 million in damages against the City. These are serious matters.
Sunland–Tujunga Alliance, Inc. - No Home Depot Campaign is and has always been the other party in this section 12.26(K) review. We had discussions with Assistant City Attorney Peter Guiterrez about that process; the issues raised by Home Depot and their law firm Latham & Watkins, and our own legal analysis of such claims. We were informed that Mr. Guiterrez had closed door meetings with attorneys from Latham & Watkins regarding this project. We observed Mr. Guiterrez at hearings on this matter laughing and chatting with various attorneys from the Latham & Watkins law firm. We had discounted those as just friendly conversations or meetings about City business or other projects. Now we are shocked to read in the Los Angeles Times that PeterGuiterrez has joined the law firm of Latham & Watkins.
We have no idea of how long those law firm recruitment discussions had been going on. This unique, controversial Home Depot store project, the amount of money spent by Home Depot on thateffort, and the City Council’s final decision have become an embarrassment to Latham & Watkins and its image of control over land use matters at City Hall. Therefore we have no doubt that Mr. Gutierrez has knowledge of the City of Los Angeles practices, rules, legal theories, defenses and possible weaknesses in this section 12.26 (K) process that are a benefit to Latham & Watkins. The nature and timing of these issues raise serious ethical concerns.
Attorney-client communications and privileges are the hallmarks of our legal system ensuring that the client, in this case, the Los Angeles City Council, will feel free to talk with and gain the best advice from the City Attorney’s office. How can anyone have confidence in the legal system, if an Assistant City Attorney, initially acting on one side of the issue, can so quickly become a member of the law firm that is now suing the City over the same matter? We see these dual roles as creating an unacceptable conflict of interest.
Mr. Guiterrez has accepted employment adverse to his former client, the City of Los Angeles. There will be shared access to possible privileged and confidential information. Regardless of the promises of Latham & Watkins, no law firm’s confidential firewalls or fictional isolation efforts ever work for such close congenial office arrangements. The critical question is does Mr. Guiterrez’s conflict of interest contaminate that law firm, requiring its disqualification? At least for appearance sake, we feel that it does.
Thank you for looking into these important ethical concerns and troubling recent events. We look forward to your response.
Joseph Barrett, President
Sunland-Tujunga Alliance, Inc.
Abby Diamond, Secretary
Sunland-Tujunga Alliance, Inc.
Cc: Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa
Eric Garcetti, President LA City Council
Cindy Cleghorn, Sunland-Tujunga NC
Vic Castro, Sunland-Tujunga DAC
California State Bar
We are still looking for a real print scribe to confirm this rumoured letter.