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Civil Service Commission v. Superior Court
California Court of Appeal
163 Cal. App. 3d 70 (1984)
San Diego County’s Civil Service Commission (the commission) (plaintiff) administered the county’s personnel system. As a quasi-independent public agency, the commission had power to independently investigate many county employees’ complaints regarding other county agencies’ personnel decisions. The commission almost always consulted with San Diego’s Office of County Counsel (County Counsel) for legal advice in its investigations. Two county employees, Ardelia McClure and William Chapman, filed complaints with the commissions regarding their former employer, San Diego County’s Department of Social Services (the department). During the commission’s investigation of McClure’s and Chapman’s complaints, commission members consulted with County Counsel and continuously informed County Counsel about the investigation and deliberations. These consultations included County Counsel Lloyd Harmon and Deputy County Counsel Ralph Shadwell. Shadwell also served as the department’s principle legal counsel. The commission ultimately ordered McClure’s and Chapman’s reinstatements with back pay. County Counsel later sued the commission on behalf of the county to obtain judicial review of the commission’s decision. The commission obtained independent counsel for the lawsuit. The commission moved to disqualify County Counsel from representing the county, arguing that County Counsel’s prior advisory role to the commission in the underlying McClure and Chapman investigations had created a conflict of interest. The San Diego Superior Court (defendant) denied the motion to disqualify County Counsel, and the commission appealed to the California Court of Appeal. The county argued in part that disqualification was unnecessary because an ethical screening system existed between County Counsel’s advisory and litigation divisions.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Wiener, J.)
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