Los Angeles County District Attorney Says Supervisors Held Illegal Meetings on Closure of King/Drew Trauma Center
Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley (R) on Friday told the county Board of Supervisors in a letter that they violated the law when they decided in private meetings to close the trauma center at Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center, the Los Angeles Times reports (Fox/Leonard, Los Angeles Times, 11/6).
Supervisors on Sept. 13 announced that they had unanimously voted to support a plan to close the King/Drew trauma center and hire outside managers to administer the hospital to address patient care problems (California Healthline, 10/28). Supervisors held a public hearing on Sept. 21 to formally vote on the closure of the King/Drew trauma center, a move that "stunned" county residents, elected officials and health care workers "who had no notice that such a plan was under consideration," the Times reports.
In response, the Times and an open-government advocacy group asked supervisors to disclose documentation from two private meetings and admit that they had violated the state open meeting law, the Ralph M. Brown Act. Supervisors have described the private meetings as legal consultations with county lawyers about anticipated litigation.
Cooley drafted his letter to the supervisors after his office analyzed minutes, tapes and other documentation from the private meetings that they provided. Supervisors released the documentation only to Cooley, who said that the records would remain confidential.
According to the letter, supervisors are guilty of "taking action on a matter outside the scope of permissible subject matter during a closed session." The letter added, "Violation of the Brown Act impugns the integrity of and erodes public confidence in government. The nature of the Brown Act violation cited herein cannot be minimized."
However, Cooley said that supervisors should not rescind their illegal actions because he found no evidence "that the board intended to prevent the public from participating in the decision-making process." Supervisors will hold a hearing on the future of King/Drew on Nov. 15.
Opponents of the closure of the King/Drew trauma center "seized upon Cooley's decision" to "bolster their case that the board's decision was flawed," the Times reports. Los Angeles City Council member Janice Hahn, whose father led the efforts to build King/Drew, said, "This is an egregious violation of the public trust," adding, "The public was not able to weigh in on this decision that impacts so many lives. I think (supervisors) were so concerned about trying to make a bold decision that they really acted way too quickly. It smacks of a backroom deal."
Interim County Counsel Raymond Fortner, who attended the private meetings and has said they did not violate state law, was unavailable for comment on Friday.
Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, who first said that she supported the closure of the King/Drew trauma center and later changed her position on the issue, said she agreed that "certainly we need to be more careful" about issues discussed in private meetings.
Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said that he accepted the comments Cooley made in the letter. He added, "I take the Brown Act very seriously, and to the extent that any of our deliberations exceeded the Brown Act's limits, it is regrettable. But it was neither deliberate nor malicious" (Los Angeles Times, 11/6).