Tag Archives: Ex Parte

Open Letter To The Los Angeles Ethics Commission Asking Them To Consider Adopting A Policy On Disclosure Of Ex Parte Communications

I reported last week that Serena Oberstein, Vice President of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, had engaged in undisclosed ex parte communications with a couple of (unregistered) lobbyists regarding a proposal to revise the Municipal Lobbying Ordinance. Of course, at present, there’s no requirement for any City commissioners, except Harbor Commissioners, to disclose such communication.

However, the example of the Board of Harbor Commissioners shows that it is possible for City commissions to adopt more stringent requirements than the rest of City government is subject to. Given the role of the Ethics Commission in defending the public interest in transparency and disclosure, it seems like a natural candidate for such a policy.

Hence, as promised, I’ve written a letter to the Commission asking them to put an item on the agenda for December 19 asking the staff to draft a policy proposal for such a requirement. Here’s a copy of the letter, and you can read a transcription after the break. If you’re moved to write about this yourself, you can, as far as I know, send communications to the Commission at ethics.commission@lacity.org.
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Ethics Commissioner Serena Oberstein’s Undisclosed Ex Parte Communication With Lobbyists Shyaam Subramanian and Nancy Berlin In Hallway Fifteen Minutes Before Ethics Commission Meeting Casts Some Doubt On Everyone’s Commitment To Transparency

Shyaam Subramanian and Nancy Berlin talking to Ethics Commissioner Serena Z. Oberstein in the hallway before Tuesday’s Ethics Commission meeting. She thanked them for giving her language, presumably to do with the MLO, and actually took notes on it in her phone. Click to enlarge.

In August the Ethics Commission continued the multiyear discussion about revising the Municipal Lobbying Ordinance. The next stage in the process was three interested persons’ meetings held in September, and then on to more discussion at yesterday’s Ethics Commission meeting. The meeting was essentially interminable,1 and I recorded the whole lobbying discussion. You can watch it either on Archive.Org or on YouTube:

Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IV •.

Ethics Commissioner Serena Z. Oberstein taking notes on “language” provided to her by lobbyists Shyaam Subramanian and Nancy Berlin. Click to enlarge.

I hope to write about the outcome of the discussion as soon as possible, although things are ultra-busy here at MK.Org secret headquarters. The short version is that the Commission accepted most of what staff recommended with a few changes and two items to be discussed even more at the December meeting. In any case, it turns out that the most interesting part of the meeting, and I don’t think this is so uncommon in City Hall, took place in the hallway fifteen minutes before the call to order.

There, I was lucky enough to witness lobbyists2 Shyaam Subramanian of Bolder Advocacy and Nancy Berlin of CalNonprofits engaged in an intense conversation with Ethics Commissioner Serena Z. Oberstein about proposed revisions to the MLO involving nonprofit corporations, whose interests both of them are compensated to represent to the City. At one point she even thanked them for giving her “language,” presumably having to do with their preferred outcome in the upcoming meeting, and went so far as to take notes on it in her phone!
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A Series of Unexpected Events Add Up to Discovery Delays in L.A. Catholic Worker v. City of L.A., Central City East Association Lawsuit Over Homeless Property Confiscations; Trial Now Scheduled for June 21, 2016

People have to sleep somewhere.
People have to sleep somewhere.
Yesterday, Judge Philip Gutierrez issued an order extending the discovery deadline in L.A. Catholic Worker et al. v. City of L.A. et al. until February 19 and moving the trial date to June 21, 2016. This order capped off a week full of filings. First, on Monday, January 11, presumably after the hearing on plaintiffs’ motion to compel discovery, Ronald Whitaker, who supervises the Business and Complex Litigation section of the L.A. City Attorney’s office, filed a notice of appearance in the case. He’s (probably) the boss of Deputy City Attorney Elizabeth Fitzgerald, who has been defending the case for the City.

I didn’t see the significance of this at the time, but it was clarified on Wednesday, when the plaintiffs filed an ex parte (that is, without the on-the-record participation of the defendants) application to amend the scheduling order to continue dates by 30 days. This is an unusual procedure and it seems it must be justified by the existence of exigent circumstances. In this case the first of these is that on Monday the 11th, after the discovery hearing, Elizabeth Fitzgerald had a medical emergency and will be on leave at least through the end of January. At the very least this requires the rescheduling of a bunch of depositions, and is probably why Ronald Whitaker joined the case. Note also that the plaintiffs asked for and received the City of LA’s support of the application and that the CCEA did not oppose it.

Elizabeth Fitzgerald’s illness is only one of the reasons supporting plaintiffs’ request for an extension. The others all have to do with what’s turned out to be a lengthy, drawn-out, painful, inch-by-inch discovery process. It seems that any optimism over the pace of document production, both by the City and by the CCEA, was unwarranted, and I’m guessing it won’t even be complete by February 19, but we shall see, shan’t we? There are some more specific details after the break if you’re interested.
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