Lawyers Try to Keep Delgadillo off Witness Stand of Whistleblower Lawsuit

While a judge mulls the first phase of a whistleblower lawsuit brought by a deputy Los Angeles city attorney, lawyers for the city are trying to keep outgoing City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo off the witness stand for the second phase of trial.

Kerrin Tso alleges she was denied a promotion for exposing conflicts of interest in her office. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Holly E. Kendig heard evidence without a jury concerning whether Tso had fully aired her grievances internally before suing, then took that part of the case under submission on June 17.

Kendig's ruling in the trial's initial phase -- which is expected this week -- will determine whether Tso can take her retaliation claim before a jury, or if she forfeited that because she did not follow office rules for airing complaints.

The judge already ruled that Tso's second claim -- for age discrimination -- can be decided by a jury. Trial on that part of the case is scheduled to begin Monday. But before it begins Kendig is scheduled to consider the city's argument that Delgadillo's testimony is unnecessary.

"Delgadillo does not have any unique, personal, factual information pertaining to the material issues in the lawsuit, and such information that he may have on tangential or background issues is available through his subordinates," according to the city's court papers.

Another judge ruled in February that Tso's attorneys could not take Delgadillo's deposition, according to the city's court papers.

Meanwhile, Tso's lawyers are opposing the city's attempt to bar them presenting evidence of political contributions to Delgadillo.

"One of the issues in this case is whether the city retaliated against Ms. Tso for reporting conflicts of interest with respect to major political supporters of Mr. Delgadillo," Tso's court papers state. "Evidence of political contributions and support tends to establish that the city -- acting through Mr. Delgadillo and his close advisers -- had a motive to retaliate against Ms. Tso."

Tso -- the daughter of late Pasadena Superior Court Judge Jack Tso and a veteran of more than 20 years in the City Attorney's Office -- sued the city in January 2007.

Now 51, Tso alleges she was the victim of reprisal for reporting what she believes were conflicts of interest in her office.

According to Tso, she was removed against her wishes from the Department of Water and Power unit, where she was a complex case litigator, to the airport division in November 2005. That job was mainly an advisory position, she said.

"This involuntary transfer resulted in increased commute time of three hours and approximately 50 miles," Tso stated.

A month later, she was denied a promotion to assistant city attorney. Tso alleges that was retaliation for complaining about City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo hiring of outside lawyers to handle DWP litigation involving Reliant Energy Services Inc. and a natural gas purchase.

The lawyers hired by Delgadillo included political backers, according to Tso's court papers. The alleged conflicts of interest came about through the firms' representation of other clients, beside the city and the DWP in litigation involving Reliant.

Tso stated that believed such representation would put their clients at a legal disadvantage and, when she said so, her bosses retaliated against her.

Delgadillo is termed-out and leaving office. City Attorney-elect Carmen Trutanich takes office on July 1.

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