Djou's discussion of suit prompts ethics complaint
Councilman Rod Tam filed a complaint with the city Ethics Commission this week, saying Councilman Charles Djou violated the ethics law by disclosing details on a pending lawsuit to the media for his personal political gain.
In the letter dated Monday, Tam asked the Ethics Commission to investigate whether Djou had violated the law by talking to the media after a closed executive meeting April 18.
The meeting involved councilmembers and attorneys discussing details on a lawsuit settlement on sewer force mains with the Environmental Protection Agency. The full agreement, requiring the city to fix and back up crucial sewer pipes, was released publicly a few weeks later.
According to the letter, Tam said Djou violated a conflict-of-interest provision that says no elected official shall "disclose confidential information gained by reason of such person's office or position or use such information for the personal gain or benefit of anyone."
Chuck Totto, executive director of the city Ethics Commission, said he received the letter and initiated an investigation that could take six to 12 months.
Totto said this case is complex and could take longer to investigate because his office does not receive many complaints regarding confidential information. He will investigate whether Djou violated any attorney-client privileges and define what "personal gain" means under the City Charter.
Tam said councilmembers understand that discussions during executive session are confidential and are not disclosed to the public unless members agree to do so.
"It was at the city's best interest that it would be a closed meeting," Tam said yesterday. "Charles Djou talked to the press for political purposes. Everyone knows that Charles Djou just wants to have his name in the paper."
Tam and Council Chairwoman Barbara Marshall said there were negative effects from Djou's statements following the closed meeting.
But Djou said there was greater public interest because the lawsuit settlement involved $300 million of taxpayers' money.
"Even if the people didn't have the right to know, I would like to know what the damage was," Djou said yesterday. "I challenge anyone to prove to me that there was 1 cent loss in this particular matter."
Djou, also an attorney, said attorney-client rights ban lawyers from discussing lawsuits' details publicly. Clients, however, are free to disclose whatever they wish, Djou said.
As a result of the April meeting, Marshall proposed a resolution that is still pending to bar councilmembers who disclose details from executive sessions from future closed-door meetings.