Embattled LA County Assessor John Noguez announced this afternoon that he is taking a "vountary leave of absence" during the DA's investigation into him and his office. He asked the county Board of Supervisors to appoint a Chief Deputy Assessor to run the office while he is gone. The deputy slot is currently vacant.
Noguez is under investigation by the DA's public corruption unit over allegations of improper tax assessments to benefit political campaign contributors. A former appraiser in his office was recently charged with several felonies in the case. A DA team recently searched Noguez's offices and several other locations.
"John Noguez is doing the noble thing today,” his attorney, Michael Proctor, said in an LA Times blog post. “He cares about the people and purpose of the office, and is doing this to allow the professionals there to do their jobs without distraction."
District Attorney Steve Cooley told the Times he welcomed Noguez' action. "This is a good thing for the assessor's office as an institution," Cooley said. "It provides an opportunity for institutional reforms and improvements."
The LA Weekly reports Friday that DA's office has issued a grand jury subpoena to at least one witness in the case, and that Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky has been talking to Noguez in an effort to get him to step aside.
"This is a positive development in the Assessor's Office," Yaroslavsky told the Weekly. "The Assessor's Office is under a cloud. The decision by the assessor to take a leave of absence will allow the office to breathe again."
The Los Cerritos Community News, the small newspaper that first began reporting on irregularities in the assessor's office, reported incorrectly on Friday that Noguez had "resigned."
Here's the statement from the assessor's office Friday afternoon:
"In the interest of restoring public confidence in the professionalism, integrity, and impartiality of the Assessor's Office, I intend to take a leave of absence from my duties as Assessor," wrote Noguez in his letter to the Board of Supervisors. "I do not take this decision lightly. It is my sincere hope that the leave of absence will allow the Assessor's Office to adhere to its mission during this important time."
During the absence of the County Assessor, a Chief Deputy Assessor will be in charge. However, because the position is currently vacant, Noguez has asked the Supervisors to recommend an individual for the post. Noguez has asked the Supervisors to make that recommendation without his input. Once designated, Noguez's leave will commence.
The full text of Noguez's letter to the Board follows:
Dear Honorable Members of the Board
As you know, the District Attorney's office is investigating allegations of misconduct in the Assessor's Office. I have consistently offered my cooperation with this investigation as well as the full cooperation of the Assessor's Office. My interest has been, and continues to be, the health and well-being of the Office, which I am proud to have served for over twenty-seven years.
In the interest of restoring public confidence in the professionalism, integrity, and impartiality of the Assessor's Office, I intend to take a leave of absence from my duties as Assessor. I do not take this decision lightly. Rather, I do this with the solemn hope that my leave of absence will allow the professionals at the Assessor's Office to continue to serve the taxpayers and citizens of this County.
During this absence, the Chief Deputy Assessor will be in charge of the Office; however, that position is currently vacant. To remove any possible concerns relating to my selection of a Chief Deputy Assessor to run the Assessor's Office in my absence, I ask that the Board of Supervisors recommend a highly qualified person to serve as Chief Deputy Assessor. I ask that the Board select that individual without my input. As soon as the Board designates that person, I will appoint him or her as Chief Deputy Assessor, and I will immediately commence my leave of absence.
During my leave of absence, the Chief Deputy Assessor will manage and oversee all of the operations of the Assessor's Office, including all personnel decisions.
It is my sincere hope that the leave of absence will allow the Assessor's Office to adhere to its mission during this important time. The leave will also allow me to address certain personal medical and bereavement issues.
Thank you for your consideration. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.
JOHN R. NOGUEZ
Previously on LA Observed: