Corruption Fighter from the DA’s Office Will be New Inspector General for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s DepartmentNovember 27th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has selected Deputy District Attorney Max Huntsman as the much-awaited Inspector General, tasked with forming an office to overseeing the scandal-ridden Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.
The selection of Huntsman is expected to be formally announced on Wednesday.
A Yale law school grad who has been with the DA’s office for 22 years, Huntsman is a supervisor in the LA district attorney’s public corruption division, and has also worked in the Public Integrity division of the DA’s office. In both positions, he appeared unafraid of confrontation and controversy. He has had a major roles in prosecuting corruption cases against local officials, such as former Los Angeles City Councilman Martin Ludlow, as well being out front on farther-reaching cases such as the recent L.A. Coliseum corruption scandal and the Bell corruption scandal.
Jack Leonard, who covers courts for the LA Times and knows Huntsman, writes of his work:
In the office’s Public Integrity Division…Huntsman has claimed several high-profile victories. Among them were the convictions of former Los Angeles city commissioner Leland Wong, accused of accepting bribes; former Vernon Mayor Leonis Malburg, who was charged with voter fraud for living outside the city; and Patrick T. Lynch, former general manager of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, one of six men charged in a sweeping corruption scandal.
According to sources at the Board of Supervisors, Huntsman was chosen from a short-list of around ten candidates for the position, which was winnowed down to four finalists by a special selection committee.
The members of the board then interviewed the final four and chose Huntsman.
A VIGILANT AND INDEPENDENT EYE
When the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence handed down its report in Sept 2012, the appointment of an Inspector General was arguably the most important of its list of recommendations.
Here, for example, is what the commission wrote in the report’s introduction about the need for an IG:
...The existing oversight entities — Special Counsel, OIR, and the Ombudsman —
should be absorbed and consolidated into a single Office of Inspector General reporting to the
Board of Supervisors with responsibility for providing independent oversight of the Department,
including its jail operations and and discipline system; conducting its own investigations in a limited number of particularly sensitive cases; monitoring jail conditions and inmate grievances; and
reviewing the Department’s internal audits and inspections.
Miriam Krinsky, the Commission’s Executive Director, put it this way when she heard about Huntsman’s selection:
“The new IG is a critical component of the Commission’s recommendations for enhanced, empowered and coordinated oversight of LASD, It is my hope that the new IG will build a talented and committed office and provide the necessary leadership to ensure that a vigilant and independent eye fulfills this vitally important function.”
YES, BUT CAN AN IG MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
Although support for the idea of an Inspector General has been fairly universal among LASD watchers, many are concerned that, with no legal power, an IG is in danger of being one more oversight body—like the Office of Independent Review and Special Counsel Merrick Bobb and the Ombudsman’s Office—that can only tinker around the edges, but cannot prevent the kinds of catastrophes that necessitated the formation of the jails commission and that continue to surface now, a year after the commission made its recommendations.
However, when WLA talked with Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas after we heard an IG had been chosen, he was decidedly upbeat on the matter.
“We took at important step forward today with the selection of Max Huntsman out of a field of impressive candidates.”
About the worry that an IG could make a real difference, Ridley-Thomas had this to say:
“Huntsman is a seasoned prosecutor. He’s an effective troubleshooter. And he isn’t likely to back down in the face of perceived intimidation.”
“It’s very easy to be co-opted or seduced by the culture of law enforcement,” Ridley-Thomas added. But he said he felt confident that Huntsman could avoid that particular kind of quicksand that has, at times, plagued others.
“We queried him pretty strongly about that and we were impressed by his responses. He had a keen sense of what his role as an inspector general would be…and he made it very clear that he wanted to make sure that the sheriff’s department would be abiding by the law, and where they were not, he would seek to correct that behavior. And he hoped for cooperation in so doing.
“But if he found cooperation not to be forthcoming, he would seek other methods to accomplish the goal. But he assured us the goal would be accomplished. In other words, he would be undeterred.”
May it be so.