"Why Oakland Can't Fire Bad Cops," Feature, 9/17
Barbara Parker Responds
After speaking to your reporter and responding to all of his questions, I was disappointed to see that the story "Why Oakland Can't Fire Bad Cops" contains numerous factual errors. I request that you correct or clarify a number of points in the online version of the story and in next week's paper, and that you post this letter online and publish it in your next week's paper.
This is a list of some errors and other problems regarding information about the City Attorney's Office; it is not a comprehensive list of errors in the story.
1. You report that in the [Robert] Roche arbitration case, an outside attorney was assigned sometime after March 19 to handle a hearing on April 7. Your reporter included this in the story without asking me whether it was correct. The attorney, Stephen Roberts, actually was assigned in February, about a month and a half before the hearing. As I told your reporter, timing of the assignment was not a factor in the outcome of this case. Please correct this point in your story.
2. You report that we "switched attorneys at the last minute" and "changed lawyers just before the arbitration hearing" in the Roche case. Again, it is not true that the attorney was assigned at the "last minute." And there was no change of attorneys on the case. Nossaman, a highly qualified firm that went through a public RFQ [request for qualifications] process, was hired to handle the case. The case was not "reassigned" from a different attorney, it was assigned to Nossaman, and they worked closely with the head of the City Attorney's Labor and Employment Unit on the case. This is standard practice when we use outside counsel on any matter. Again, the reporter never asked me whether the case was reassigned. Please correct this in your story.
3. To be clear, Mr. Roberts, the outside counsel who handled the Roche case, is not a "new" attorney. As we told your reporter, he is a partner at Nossaman, has been a litigator for three decades and has handled dozens of arbitrations, including police arbitrations.
4. The story states: "In an interview, [Scott] Olsen questioned Parker's decision to switch attorneys at the last minute, and believes it likely played a role in the arbitrator's ruling in Roche's favor." The quote from Mr. Olsen is based on incorrect information given to him by the reporter. It should be clarified.
5. The Franks case never went to arbitration. The reporter calls it "another arbitration case" and uses it as evidence to support his theory about arbitrations not being handled correctly, so this should be corrected.
6. The City Attorney never withheld any evidence or anything else in the Franks case. The story states "Franks' attorney Michael Rains uncovered an expert analysis of video footage from Franks' chest-mounted camera that had been withheld from Franks and OPD investigators by the Oakland City Attorney's Office." In fact, we gave the reporter a copy of a letter including a timeline of that case that clearly shows we did not withhold the report in question, or anything else, period. In fact, as I wrote in the letter, the City Attorney's Office advised Internal Affairs to produce the report when Mr. Rains brought it to our attention that he had not yet received it from IA [internal affairs] as part of the administrative process. This is a serious accusation, and our explanation that it was totally baseless should have been included in the story.
7. Likewise, the story did not include our response to Mr. Rains' claim that he filed a bar complaint against a member of the City Attorney's Office. In the letter provided to the reporter, I wrote that Mr. Rains' bar complaint was "baseless and seemingly malicious" for the above reasons. That response should have been included in the story.
8. You quote me in the story as saying that budget cuts have "hindered (our) ability to handle cases." At no point in my conversation with your reporter did I say anything like that. I pointed out the loss of in-house staff to explain why my office has relied more on outside counsel for arbitrations. The quote about layoffs hindering our ability to handle arbitrations is completely out of context and should not have been attributed to me. This absolutely warrants a correction.
9. I began the interview with a caveat that because arbitrations are personnel/disciplinary matters, I cannot discuss or reveal facts or evidence in particular cases. I want to repeat that point so readers understand why we can't comment on these matters, even when opposing counsel is saying something inaccurate or misleading in the newspaper. I told the reporter that many factors determine the outcome of arbitration proceedings, and that arbitrators have the power to substitute their judgment for the City's, even when they agree with the City's facts and evidence, and agree that the officer was not subject to disparate treatment. This is not a correction, but I think it's an important point for readers to know.
Barbara Parker, Oakland City Attorney
Ali Winston Responds
Ms. Parker, as you know full well, the City of Oakland retained attorney Nikki Hall to re-investigate the Olsen case in 2012 because OPD's Internal Affairs did not handle the case properly. Your office then chose not to retain Hall for the arbitration case, even though she has worked for the city in the past on personnel matters. OPD terminated Robert Roche on August 6, 2013. Roberts was retained in February 2014, and told people he interviewed before Roche's arbitration hearing that he did not have sufficient time to prepare the city's case, according to sources I spoke with.