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Rocky Days in L.A.

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Message Jayne Stahl
It's virtually impossible to read The Los Angeles Times these days without seeing marathon coverage of alleged transgressions by city attorney, Rocky Delgadillo, a Democrat. There have been charges of misconduct before, but since his press release, in late February, in which Delgadillo went public with his sponsorship of legislation to "criminalize homeless patient dumping," and go after corporate HMO monoliths like Kaiser Permanente, the mania to find and pin dirt on him has been relentless. This isn't so much to ask whether the numerous allegations against the city attorney are justified; this is simply to question their timing, and their purpose.

Shortly after announcing criminal charges against Kaiser Permanente Hospital, last November, the onslaught of invective, and nonstop investigation into wrongdoing began digging back to 1998 for evidence not merely against the city attorney, but against his wife. "Kaiser Foundation Hospital, part of Kaiser Permanente, the largest HMO in the nation will be held accountable for violating state law, and its commitment to its patients," he announced. Michael Stoops, National Coalition for the Homeless, calls Rocky Delgadillo's suit against Kaiser "a precedent" which will "send a notice to institutions that dump homeless patients," (USA Today) but who cares about the rights of the homeless in a town smitten with celebrity, greed, and corporate lust?

Clearly, efforts by Delgadillo to speak out against the brutal, wanton practice of homeless dumping helped spark some of the outrage that led to a recent move by California Health Regulators to call for revoking the license of Martin Luther King, Jr. Hospital where, early last month, a 43 year old woman, Edith Rodriguez, was left to writhe in pain, and die on the Emergency Room floor, but who cares about uninsured indigents who go dying from neglect, and hordes of homeless dumped on Skid Row, and what do the monied folk try to do with a man who tries to stand up for their interests? Crucify him for nonpayment of five parking tickets!

It's not only HMOs, and corporate health care giants, Delgadillo has taken aim at. In April, he announced tough new legislation to "put an end to the rampant outdoor advertising blighting our communities," and less than a month later, he detailed efforts to advocate for the rights of those who are victims of domestic violence, obtaining a $100,000 grant from Verizon Wireless to develop tools to enhance the ability to prosecute those who abuse women and children. Nobody's trying to depict Rocky Delgadillo as Robin Hood, but simply ask if he's being railroaded for trying to do something about the city's many disenfranchised.

Okay, yes, Rocky went after Sheriff Lee Baca, too, for wanting to give Paris Hilton a free pass to do house arrest as Delgadillo thought that keeping her in jail would be more just given the gravity of driving on a suspended license. And, yes, this is ironic in light of recent revelations that his wife faced an outstanding warrant for her arrest as a result of a nearly decade's old traffic case in which she failed to appear in court and face charges of driving without insurance, with a suspended license , and in an unregistered car. The Los Angeles Times reports that the Delgadillos were "chronically late in paying fines" for several parking tickets, and the prosecutor has also admitted to occasionally letting the missus drive his city owned vehicle, without a license, to run errands; he himself acknowledges driving without insurance for a year.

He doesn't deny either that when Mrs. D. was involved in an accident in her husband's SUV, a few years ago, taxpayers picked up the tab for repairs. And, earlier this month , the Los Angeles Ethics Committee approved more than $11,000, in fines, for 30 counts of campaign finance law violations for his failure to account for how some of his 2004 and 2005 campaign funds were spent. These dubious expenditures included meals, flowers, and gifts, as well as payments to consultants. Delgadillo conceded wrongdoing, and settled with the committee. (LAT) In fact, if only the chief executive, and his chronies in the executive branch, were to be half as forthcoming with mea culpas as Mr. D. has been, we would no longer have troops stationed in Iraq.

Undoubtedly, the desire by the state ethics panel to investigate Rocky was not without merit. The allegations of campaign finance law infractions alone would have been sufficient cause to justify a panel inquiry. It is serious when the top prosecutor for a major city enlists "staff members to run personal errands and babysit his children," but it is more serious when those reporting the story fail to address why it is that these allegations have surfaced now, and place them within the context of his ongoing efforts to criminalize those whose inhumanity results in the egregious dumping of homeless people, by hospitals, onto the streets. Tabloid journalism whose focus is advertising revenue leads to mob justice in which a citizen is tried by photo-op, and not by fairness, in the interest of boosting sluggish newspaper sales. From Paris to Rocky, instant celebrity results in high ratings for the media, as well as an intellectual, and ethical climate that contributes to a witch hunt mentality.

When questions that deserve to be asked go missing; questions such as why have all these moving violations managed to surface only months after Delgadillo's legislation to impose criminal penalties on among the largest HMOs in the country for dumping hospital patients, the result is daunting. One cannot fail to see the connection between SB 275, the bill Delgadillo co-authored last year, which prohibits hospital staff from dumping homeless patients on Skid Row, making violations of this provision "punishable as a misdemeanor," and the current feeding frenzy to divest this city attorney of his job. HMOs, and the folks who stand to profit the most from them, don't like those who champion for the rights of anyone, or anything that cuts into their bottom line.

Arguably, Rocky Delgadillo stepped on one too many toes. But, more importantly, what does it say about the press that, rather than expose the possibility that there's a corporate posse actively trying to dig up as much dirt as possible on this Democratic city attorney, are instead cooperating with those interests?

It is hoped that all those who consider the charges against Rocky Delgadillo, city attorney of Los Angeles, will do so within the context of those causes he's championed, and also challenge the timing of the release of allegations against him.
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Widely published, poet, playwright, essayist, and screenwriter; member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA. Jayne Lyn Stahl is a Huffington Post blogger.
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