LAFD and Allegations of Attorney Misconduct

The Los Angeles City Fire Department is in the fire law headlines again, this time over an unusual legal issue: a misconduct complaint filed against city attorneys… by an attorney… who works for the city… although not technically a “city attorney”… who claims that city attorneys are improperly denying him access to information he needs to do his job.

Stephen Miller is the LAFD’s Independent Assessor, a position created under a City Charter Amendment in 2009 to serve the Board of Fire Commissioners as an internal watchdog. The Board of Fire Commissioners are civilian overseers of LAFD.

Miller, who is an attorney, has been seeking access to confidential LAFD personnel records for two years. Miller claims he needs the records to do his job, which the LAFD’s web site describes as:

[to] … a) audit, assess and review the Fire Department’s handling of complaints of misconduct committed by employees; b) conduct any audit or assessment requested by majority vote of the Board of Fire Commissioners; and c) initiate any assessment or audit of the Fire Department or any portion of the Fire Department.

LAFD has thus far refused to provide the requested information citing advice from the city’s attorneys.

Last week, Miller filed a misconduct complaint with the California Bar Association against several members of the city attorney’s staff who he claims are responsible for the refusal to release the records. The LA Times is reporting that this is not the first time that Miller has asked the Bar Association to investigate the city’s attorneys. In February, 2012, he filed a complaint that was later dismissed.

News reports have thus far not divulged Miller’s specific allegations of wrongdoing. California attorneys are required to adhere to the Rules of Professional Conduct as well as the State Bar Act, so it could be something in either.  Without more information it is hard to speculate.

William Carter, chief deputy city attorney for LA, claims that the disciplinary complaints are politically motivated representing “a meritless smear campaign against dedicated, career public servants.” He says he plans to file his own complaint against Miller. If only the story stopped there… but no. Here’s where the unusual story turns strange: Carter alleges that Miller’s complaints are discriminatory because many of the attorneys targeted in Miller’s complaint are minorities and women. YCMTSU… Lawyer’s Edition!!!

No telling where this one will end… Incidentally, the LAFD web site gives an overview of Miller’s background – which is quite impressive: former wildland firefighter, air medic, reserve deputy sheriff, federal magistrate, and state inspector general.

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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