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COUNCIL REJECTS OUSTER OF LAWYER IN KEELEY PROBE.

Byline: Patrick McGreevy Daily News Staff Writer

An effort to disqualify attorney Burt Pines from investigating Deputy Mayor Michael Keeley based on a potential conflict of interest fell short Tuesday when the Los Angeles City Council voted 8-5 to waive conflict rules for Pines.

The council action came on a day when Keeley met for the first time with Ethics Commission investigators who are conducting their own review of Keeley's actions.

Keeley is under investigation for disclosing a confidential city attorney's memo to the Morrison & Foerster law firm, which later sued the city over a geothermal plant contract. City Attorney James Hahn has called for Keeley to be fired over the episode.

Pines - a former city attorney - has agreed to assist Deputy Mayor Robin Kramer in reviewing Keeley's actions. But several council members called Tuesday for Pines to be disqualified because his law firm has clients with disputes against the city.

Pines' law firm is representing United Airlines in drafting and negotiating a lease at Los Angeles International Airport. Also, the firm is representing Emery Worldwide Airlines in a dispute with the city Airports Department over whether Emery violated noise rules at LAX.

Both companies also are suing the city over higher landing fees at LAX, although Pines said his firm is not handling that litigation - in which the city is being represented by Morrison & Foerster.

Even so, critics said Pines should be taken off the investigation.

``It is a conflict,'' said Councilman Nate Holden, who said Pines' airline clients could potentially benefit from his working for the mayor and making decisions affecting Morrison & Foerster.

``I don't want to see on the surface the perception of a sweetheart deal,'' Holden said. ``It's kind of like this is a family deal, and I'm concerned about this family arrangement.''

Joining Holden in voting to disqualify Pines were council members Ruth Galanter, Jackie Goldberg, Rita Walters and Joel Wachs.

Pines had disclosed the potential conflicts previously in a letter to Kramer.

``We are not aware of any facts that would present a conflict of interest in our representation of our existing clients and our assistance to your office in connection with the matter at hand,'' Pines wrote.

Council members Richard Alarcon and Mike Feuer also said they do not see Pines' private clients benefiting from his pro bono work for the mayor.

``It's hard for me to envision how Mr. Pines would gain access to information or strategy that would undermine our position on these matters,'' Feuer said.

Mayoral spokesman Steve Sugerman said the council made the right decision, which will allow Pines and Kramer to complete their investigation.

However, Holden complained that the probe is taking too long. City Attorney James Hahn disclosed Keeley's actions on April 19, calling for the mayor to fire his chief operating officer.

Noting that Keeley admitted sharing the legal memo with opposing counsel and that he sent a letter asking the counsel to keep the disclosure secret, Holden said there is no excuse for the investigation dragging on.

``You know what it is,'' Holden said of the motivation for delay, ``stall for time and the pressure will go away.''

Sugerman denied that the mayor is stalling on the issue, saying the investigation will be concluded when Pines and Kramer complete their work. He offered no timetable for the investigation's finish.

Holden, Galanter and others maintained that if the council is approving the hiring of Pines, the council is his client and should be privy to his investigative findings.

That issue was left unresolved, but the council did vote Tuesday to lift a ban on the Mayor's Office communicating with Morrison & Foerster so that Pines could question the firm about its dealings with Keeley.

Meanwhile, Keeley met Tuesday for more than an hour with investigators from the city Ethics Commission, said a source familiar with the meeting.

The source said Keeley was cooperative, but it was not clear whether the Ethics Commission will pursue a formal investigation of wrongdoing.

Commission Executive Director Rebecca Avila declined comment, saying it is the panel's policy not to discuss such meetings.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 1, 1996
Words:680
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