Sunday, October 25, 2009

Board of Commissioners to dump appeals process?


Please read the Department's proposal to change the Municipal Code here.

“A proposed mark-up of the relevant LAMC sections is on file and will be provided to the City Attorney.”

Why? Why this is not "provided" to the Board and to the Public before the item is discussed or passed? Let’s see it, please.

Most notable of the reasons stated in the Dept.’s report for “revising” the appeals process are:

1. The current system is burdensome to the Board.
2. The Board delays scheduling of appeals.
3. The Board is not qualified to hear appeals.

First, I think that recently slamming the Board with a meeting consisting entirely of multiple appeal hearings was a calculated move—a move calculated to coerce/convince the Board to give up the appeal process. Helen Brakemeir has campaigned to be in charge of this for a long time. Are we now giving it to her? Please don’t.

To my knowledge, sections 53.18.5 and 53.34.4 of the municipal code were crafted after significant study by a panel of citizens. If that was not the case, it should be now. Any changes which affect so many lives of people and animals must be studied carefully before being changed as radically as is proposed. The process MUST be fair to all parties. The proposed changes effectively do away with the appeal process and leave only a “review” by the General Manager.

My initial reaction to the idea that the Board is overburdened by appeals is “too bad.” With power, there is responsibility. The Board is the ONLY chance of an impartial entity having any review of a decision to revoke a license or declare a dog as dangerous. The reason that appeals are most often too “extensive” is that the current procedures for appeals are not followed. Please refer to the Resolution regarding how appeals are to be conducted. The Board meets twice per month—sometimes. If the work isn’t getting done, perhaps more meetings should be scheduled and certainly no meeting should be canceled without being rescheduled.

“…the Board is compelled to delve deeply into the case...”

No they are not. It is only the Board itself which makes the choice whether or not to delve “deeply into the case.” If the Board were to follow the actual rules for appeals, this would not happen. It would be interesting to know how many Commissioners even know these rules. Please review them first, before voting on this item.

If the current appeals process is burdensome to the Board, then the process should be streamlined and rely more on limited-length written statements from the parties which outline and explain why the original decision is invalid. The actual appeal hearing should be limited to 15-20 minutes. This is all you get in the California Court of Appeals and it should be good enough for the Board appeals.

Delays? To my knowledge, it is the Department and Ross Pool who are responsible for the scheduling of appeals. To address delays, the appeal should be heard within a specified time of the filing of the appeal request. Problem solved.

The Board is not qualified? If the Board is qualified to set policy which affects the lives of people and animals in the City, then its members are qualified to hear appeals of decisions which are the result of those policies. There is no entity within the Department as qualified or impartial as the Board. Expecting a General Manager or other “designated individual” to be the final arbiter is placing too much power in the hands of ONE person. “Designated individual?” Like whom? Helen Brakemeir? One of the other Captains who have been found unfit to run a District? No. Is a General Manager, who most likely has less animal experience than a Board member, more qualified? No.

As I see it, the pitfalls of with proposed changes are:

1. Quasi-judicial decisions are placed in the hands of law enforcement officers. This is NOT exemplary of our system of justice. Where are the checks and balances? This is akin to having a police captain hear your speeding ticket case. Whether “directly involved” or not, there is too much probability that a law enforcement officer -read ACO- would hold a bias against an appellant.
2. The final decision is placed in the hands of the chief animal law enforcement officer or another law enforcement officer. See #1.


1. Appoint a citizen panel/tribunal comprised of animal experts to hear appeals. Train them in property law and due process OR get some lawyers to sit on the panel who actually understand due process. Offer training an alternative to license revocation.
2. Follow the rules and procedures which are currently in place. They might work.

This needs more study by qualified people before being passed. Please continue the item and get input from experts…like Bobby Dorafshar or the other members of Spay Neuter Committee.

I have no objections to the proposal to clarify the definition of “barking dog.” It’s necessary.

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