Thursday, March 22, 2012

Carmen 'Cover Up' Trutanich comes under fire for faulty fire department advice

City Attorney Carmen Trutanich's aspirations to become Los Angeles District Attorney suffered a serious setback yesterday as conflicting reports appear to suggest that Trutanich 'OK'd' the Los Angeles Fire Department's controversial cover up of their response times. The excuse given for the cover up is that release of the response times would violate patient privacy rights under a Federal law known as HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

That Trutanich should be complicit in a cover-up to conceal slower than reported Fire Dept. response times, could be seen as suggesting that Trutanich would be an equally willing aider and abettor in cover ups involving police and political misconduct. If indeed, Trutanich was behind the advice to cover up the response times, that would make the exposure of police misconduct such as the Rampart scandal less likely under a Trutanich regime.

Fire Chief Brian L. Cummings specifically quoted legal advice from the City Attorney
as the grounds for the media blackout on response time information.
A press release, issued by LA Fire Chief Brian L Cummings, stated that "The Department is currently seeking written advice from the City Attorney relative to the release of incident specific PHI to a variety of internal and external sources including elected officials, commissions, the media and associated stakeholders." PHI is 'Protected Health Information,' which supposedly includes the response times of LAFD to specific incidents.

Cummings continued to say that "The City Attorney has preliminarily opined that the Department should immediately cease the practice of releasing PHI to any source not specifically authorized under the Privacy Rule’s treatment, billing and operations exemption."

The clampdown on releasing response times appears to be an attempt by the Fire Dept. to cover up evidence reported in the press suggesting that the Fire Department had misrepresented actual response times to cover up the disastrous effects of Mayor Villaraigosa's budget cuts.

In essence, the Fire Chief said that Trutanich provided the him with a legal loophole to withhold information showing that the Fire Dept. had misrepresented their actual response times. That Trutanich would stand lock-step with the Fire Chief in this crass attempt at a cover up is, perhaps, not surprising; Trutanich is actively seeking the endorsement of firefighters in his bid to become District Attorney, so providing a legal loophole to assist the Fire Chief might make that endorsement more likely.

Despite the statement issued by the Fire Chief, Trutanich was swift to deny that he had given that advice.

 KNX 1070AM reporter Claudia Peschiutta Tweeted a statement from Trutanich supporter Los Angeles City Councilmember Dennis Zine who said "I showed Mr. Trutanich the letter (from #LAFO Chief that cites city atty's advice). He says, 'That didn't come from us.'"

KFI AM640's legal eagle Eric Leonard told the John and Ken show that they should not be so quick to condemn Trutanich. Leonard opined that the advice may have come from one of Trutanich's many deputies without the City Attorney's actual knowledge. Leonard obtained a statement from Trutanich's Chief Deputy, William Carter, stating that "The City Attorney's Office has not released a new opinion about the Federal privacy law called HIPAA, and does not have a practice of ordering any fire chief or police chief to cause a media blackout."

Of course, as with any statement from Trutanich, who according to KABC talk show host Doug McIntyre, has a reputation for being 'truth challenged,' you have to look very closely at what was actually said. Trutanich said there was no "new opinion," but is there an existing one that supports the Fire Chief's claim?

There is, not surprisingly, something of a troubled and tortured history of advice given by Trutanich to the Fire Department concerning what information the Department can and cannot disclose. The Fire Commission, and independent oversight commission, was recently sharply critical of advice given by Trutanich.

As the Dragnet previously reported, the Fire Commission received a 13-page report from the Independent Assessor's Office blasting Trutanich for his failures to provide consistent advice, and to timely respond to questions. In fact, the Independent Assessor's Office were so frustrated by Trutanich's legal advice that they had to engage the services of 'Dean and Distinguished Professor of Law Erwin Chemerinsky' to provide the advice that Trutanich was either unwilling or incapable of providing.

The 13-page report was previously available from the City of LA's website via link provided in our July 28, 2011 article, however, when we recently tested the link, the report could not be found. Fortunately, we have preserved a copy which can be downloaded here.

Whether Trutanich did indeed provide the advice to Fire Chief Cummings to cover up the response times, or whether that advice came from an unnamed deputy without Trutanich's knowledge, or whether the advice was, as Dean Chemerinsky previously noted, 'mistaken,' the actions of Carmen Trutanich once again raises serious doubts about his ability to run a governmental law office, and utterly refutes his claims to be 'qualified' to be District Attorney.


No comments: