CHP in the frying pan


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Harley Quinn
April 21, 2008, 01:54 PM
Legal bills are costly for all. This is another example of when you are a member, keep your mouth shut or else...Hmmmmmmmm
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CHP runs up $600,000-plus tab in dispute with whistle-blower
By John Hill - jhill@sacbee.com
Published 12:00 am PDT Monday, April 21, 2008


Since a whistle-blowing chief bucked the California Highway Patrol establishment by angling for the commissioner's job four years ago, the department's efforts to retaliate against him have cost taxpayers more than $600,000.

The tab has hit $619,000 and is still rising, as the CHP defends itself on multiple legal fronts.

In January, the State Personnel Board issued fines and a stinging rebuke to the CHP for its treatment of former Assistant Chief Art Acevedo, who had sought to expose a pension-spiking plan.

It found that the CHP trumped up disciplinary charges against him, tainted his promotional exam and apparently used explicit photographs he took during a consensual affair in an effort to discredit him.

The retaliation "was designed to cause maximum stress, embarrassment and damage to (Acevedo's) reputation, and was particularly egregious," an administrative law judge wrote.

State Sen. Gloria Romero, a frequent CHP critic who testified as a witness in one of the cases, accuses the department of continuing to shell out money as a message to other would-be whistle-blowers that the CHP will overwhelm them in court.

"I think it's hushing whistle-blowers," said Romero, a Los Angeles Democrat. "… It shouldn't cost taxpayers that kind of money."

The CHP says it must use public funds to fight against lawsuits that could result in even bigger hits on the state treasury.

"The department is obligated to defend itself and its employees in the best interests of the taxpayers," spokeswoman Fran Clader said.

Acevedo, now police chief of Austin, Texas, is suing his old department. That action is adding to the legal bills from the State Personnel Board complaint, a complicated case that included seven days of testimony. The CHP has appealed that decision, keeping the legal cost meter running.

The CHP also was sued by one of its officers who apparently was caught in the crossfire of the struggle. In 1989, she had a consensual relationship with Acevedo. After he applied to become commissioner, the CHP got anonymous letters saying he had shown fellow officers explicit photographs he took of her then.

The woman found out about it when she was contacted by CHP investigators looking into the charges. She then sued Acevedo and the CHP. Even though the CHP paid nothing, it had to spend money to defend itself.

Acevedo maintained that a fellow officer inadvertently saw the pictures in the glove box of his private pickup truck, but settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.

The State Personnel Board tied that case, as well, to the campaign against Acevedo.

The anonymous letters about the lurid pictures "reek of retribution," the administrative law judge wrote, and appeared to be part of the effort "to impede (Acevedo's) bid for Commissioner."

Much of the retaliation and later litigation costs center on two disciplinary actions against Acevedo and how they were used against him in the exam he took for promotion to deputy chief.

Acevedo was disciplined in the midst of his attempts to call attention to the CHP allowing a handful of officers to retire past the mandatory age of 60 to sweeten their pensions. The deal was later found by an outside agency to be improper.

At one point, Acevedo was talking to a retired officer about it. The conversation was inadvertently recorded on the voice mail of his superior, who slapped him with a disciplinary letter.

Around the same time, Acevedo announced that he was applying to be commissioner. Then-Commissioner Dwight Helmick was considered vulnerable with the recent election of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. But Acevedo's bid was viewed within the top ranks as disloyal to Helmick and overly ambitious, since he would leapfrog colleagues in higher ranks.

A week later, the CHP received the anonymous letters that included the allegations about the lurid pictures and launched an investigation. The head of its internal affairs unit, Capt. William Leist, refused to take part. The charges were old, he said, and the investigation looked like retaliation. But it continued under the leadership of then-Deputy Chief Joe Farrow, named commissioner this year.

The result was another disciplinary letter for displaying, inadvertently or not, the explicit photographs.

In June, Acevedo's run-ins with his superiors came to a head when he and others took the exam to promote from assistant chief to deputy chief. The three-person panel that interviewed him, including Helmick, confronted him with the disciplinary letters, contrary to longstanding practice in promotional exams.

The panel gave Acevedo a low score. After the State Personnel Board took the rare step of throwing out the exam results, Acevedo took it again and was promoted.

The board ultimately fined the CHP and some of its top officials, most of them retired, a total of $40,000. It also suspended the one top official who had not retired for 30 days.

About three-quarters of all the CHP's legal costs have gone to the state attorney general's office, which represents the department in court.

Another $135,000 went to outside law firms that were hired to represent Helmick and Paula Guzman, chairwoman of a deputy chief's exam panel that was later found to have treated Acevedo unfairly.

The CHP also paid three retired high-level officials for the time they spent appearing in the cases. Helmick, the former commissioner, got $3,162.

Acevedo now wants the CHP and its former officials to pay his own legal costs – amounting, he says, to hundreds of thousands of dollars – as well as earnings losses and other damages, such as the toll on his health and his family.

"They ran me out of that place," he said. "We've been through hell."
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Welcome to the world of High priced tickets, and keeping the gates closed.
;)

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Art Eatman
April 21, 2008, 04:06 PM
Discussion of existing law? Proposed law? Gun-related laws? I don't think so...

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