Attorney: Let AG take Tam case
The attorney hired by top city officials to conduct a leaks investigation into Councilwoman Lena Tam told Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley he thinks she should allow Attorney General Jerry Brown or another outside party to consider the case.
“(Y)ou should be aware of some concern in the Alameda community that your office ought not to render the final judgment in this matter and that the appearance of justice counsels that you abstain and allow the Attorney General or another disinterested party to determine what justice requires here,” attorney Michael Colantuono wrote in a September 20 letter to O’Malley.
In his four-page letter, Colantuono accused O’Malley of having a “personal and political” relationship with Tam, one he said he believes could have guided her office’s decision making in the case. He noted that Tam and a host of Tam supporters who were not connected with the case had endorsed O’Malley in her recent run for the district attorney’s office, and he claimed O’Malley had even picked up Tam once when the councilwoman experienced car trouble.
O’Malley said Friday that “quite a bit” of what Colantuono included in his letter is false, including the car story, and she denied having a personal relationship with Tam. She said her office’s investigation into Colantuono’s accusations was handled by two senior attorneys and that she wasn’t involved.
“Though he makes the request that I recuse myself, at this point the investigation is closed unless he presents more evidence. And he hasn’t,” O’Malley said.
“I want the community to know that my office and I personally take this very seriously,” O’Malley added, saying she wouldn’t allow a personal relationship to guide the outcome of an investigation even if one existed. She said she is drafting a response to the letter which will be public if Colantuono decides to release it.
“In my 26 years in the district attorney’s office, I really have never seen a situation where someone makes something so personal and puts it in the media,” O’Malley said. “I think that’s just his style.”
In addition to alleging personal and political connection may have played a role in the outcome of the Tam investigation, Colantuono, who said he doesn’t question the ability or integrity of O’Malley and her staff, accused O’Malley’s office of leaking advance word of their investigation to Tam.
Tam also denied she has a personal relationship with O’Malley, saying the letter is “rife with baseless accusations.”
“The letter is filled with misinformation about the law and the facts, and appears to be another attempt to remove me from office on the basis of nothing but false rumors and innuendo,” Tam wrote in response to an e-mailed request for comment.
Tam called Colantuono a “hired gun” brought on by Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant and City Attorney Teresa Highsmith to try to remove her from office due to her questions about “important city matters,” including a review of Highsmith’s job performance she requested the day the investigation began. And she said it’s “unfortunate” Colantuono “decided to publicly and baselessly malign the District Attorney when the investigation didn’t end in serving the political goals of those who hired him.”
“This is a political smear campaign that was financed by the city’s taxpayers,” Tam said.
City officials said Friday they didn’t have a response from the attorney general’s office, which was copied on Colantuono’s letter.
The district attorney’s office announced on September 7 that they were not going to pursue a case against Tam, citing a lack of evidence. Colantuono had asked that a grand jury look at his accusations to consider removing Tam from office.
The City Council announced later that week that they wouldn’t pursue a civil case against Tam, though Colantuono said he would ask O’Malley to reopen the case. Some members of the council asked that the matter be dropped, but he said that the charter grants only the city manager the right to make that decision.
This is not Colantuono’s first high-profile exchange with a district attorney’s office. When he was city attorney for La Habra Heights in 2003, Colantuono got into a written scuffle with the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office over a warning letter they sent the city alleging Brown Act violations.
In an August 29, 2003 letter, Colantuono accused Assistant Head Deputy District Attorney Susan Chasworth of causing community strife and of failing to talk to city officials before issuing the warning letter. He questioned Chasworth’s facts and her interpretation of the Brown Act and asked her to withdraw the letter.