When Paris Hilton was sprung from jail early, few were as outraged — and as outspoken — as the prosecutor who put her there.
But City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo’s complaints of a two-tiered jail system where “the rich and powerful receive special treatment” have come to back to haunt him.
Soon after Hilton was sent back to jail earlier this month, he acknowledged his wife had committed a similar infraction — driving with a suspended license. Among other things, he also admitted sticking the taxpayers with the bill after his wife crashed his city-issued car in 2004, and acknowledged that staffers have occasionally run personal errands and baby-sat his children.
“He was living in somewhat of a glass house,” said Raphael Sonenshein, a political scientist at California State University, Fullerton.
The disclosures have led the California bar and the city Ethics Commission to open investigations of one of Los Angeles’ highest-ranking law enforcement officers.
The furor has sent the normally publicity-friendly politician into virtual hiding. Delgadillo’s office declined to comment.
Delgadillo is a 46-year-old up-and-coming Democrat whose close advisers are said to refer to themselves as “Team 1600,” a reference to the Pennsylvania Avenue address of the White House.
The son of an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Rockard Delgadillo grew up in East Los Angeles and won a scholarship to Harvard, where he played football. He earned his law degree from Columbia University.
He was a deputy mayor to Richard Riordan and an entertainment attorney for powerhouse legal firm O’Melveny & Myers, where former Secretary of State Warren Christopher practices.
In 2001, he was elected to the first of two terms as city attorney, becoming the first Mexican-American to hold citywide office in three decades. He ran unsuccessfully for California attorney general last fall.
Apart for some questions about his claims of gridiron glory, including a boast he played pro football (he tried out for New York Giants but didn’t make the team), he had had little trouble in office up until two weeks ago.
That was when Delgadillo decried Hilton’s release from jail by the sheriff. He argued that Hilton should serve more time behind bars for driving with a suspended license and violating her probation on alcohol-related reckless driving charges.
Just like the hotel heiress, his wife claimed to be unaware of the suspension, he said. The difference, however, was that her license had been suspended for failing to show proof of insurance after a fender bender. She had not been drinking and driving, Delgadillo said.
More than a week later, amid mounting pressure from the Los Angeles Times and other local news media, he disclosed that his wife banged up his city-issued GMC Yukon in 2004 while driving with a suspended license and that he left the taxpayers to foot the $1,222 repair bill. He reimbursed the city last week.
“I realized that I should have spoken up earlier. That was a mistake,” he said. “I mishandled the situation and I apologize.”
Then it emerged that his wife had an outstanding arrest warrant for failing to appear in court on charges of driving without insurance and other offenses dating to 1998. She resolved the case Wednesday by pleading no contest to a misdemeanor.
Wife blames disorganization
“I was disorganized,” Michelle Delgadillo told a TV station on Thursday. “There’s no excuse for it. I’m not going to make excuses for myself. I have to be an organized person, there’s no doubt about it. I made a mistake.”
It turned out she wasn’t the only one in the family who drove without insurance: Her husband later acknowledged he had gone a year without coverage.
The Times, which followed Delgadillo’s troubles in an editorial page fixture it called “Rocky Watch,” also reported that the city attorney had used members of his staff to run personal errands and baby-sit his two young sons. A spokesman for Delgadillo confirmed that staff members have tended to some family and personal needs, but on their own time or during lunch breaks.
Finally, it was discovered that a consulting and business development company operated by his wife failed to file state tax returns for several years and did not have a city business license. On Friday, she paid an undisclosed amount in fees and penalties for not registering her company with the city, but said she reported the consulting income on her personal tax returns.
“Here’s a sobering observation,” the Times editorial page wrote. “Any police officer who committed Delgadillo’s offenses would be fired, and appropriately so. Why does the city’s top law enforcement official get a better deal than its rank and file?”