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Regent Commits Ethics Violation, Highlighting Misconduct within UC

A confidential investigation concluded that UC Regent William De La Peña violated ethics rules by attempting to negotiate a financial deal between his eye clinics and UCLA, as first reported by an investigative journalism organization ProPublica.

De La Peña, appointed to the UC Board of Regents in 2006,  owns and operates De La Peña Eye Clinic, which operates five ophthalmology and optometry clinics in the Greater Los Angeles Area.

UC appointed Daniel M. Dooley, Systemwide Locally Designated Official, to oversee whistleblower complaints filed against De La Peña. Specifically, Dooley questioned whether De La Peña requested former UCLA hospital chief executive David Feinberg, “to purchase clinics outside the Regental process,” and whether he sought to “orchestrate a sale of his clinics to the Doheny Eye Institute to avoid a conflict of interest on his part.”

Dooley announced in his March 2015 letter addressed to Janet Napolitano and former Regents Chairman Bruce D. Varner that he found that De La Peña engaged in discussions with Doheny even after recusing participation, and that “Regent De La Peña continued to pursue alternative scenarios by which Regent De La Peña’s clinics could be turned over to UCLA.” These findings were not made public.

According to De La Peña, it was UCLA that first raised the possibility of leasing spaces from the  clinics. De La Peña argued that he specifically told UC’s General Counsel Charlie Robinson that he did not intend to violate UC policies. De La Peña also stated that he supported the transaction not for his own gain, but for its profitability to UCLA.

Yet Dooley, with the consultation of an attorney, concluded that De La Peña violated Regents Policy 1110 regarding conflicts of interest, which provides, in part, that “no public official, including a designated employee, shall make, participate in making, or in any way attempt to use his or her official position to influence the making of any governmental decision.” Dooley contended that under this code it did not matter whether De La Peña initiated the deal; it was sufficient for him to have engaged in a series of discussions regarding this financial transaction to have violated this ethics law.

However, in his June 2015 letter, Regent Varner disagreed with Dooley’s findings holding that De La Peña “wanted to be certain he followed proper procedures” as attested by his statements to Robinson.

Regardless, after Dooley’s findings, De La Peña resigned as chairman of the Regents’ health committee. He still remains a member of the overall governing board, allowing him to cast votes on items regarding UC medical centers, until his term officially expires in 2018.

Although this incident occurred a year ago, many student leaders and media outlets believe these findings are important because they illustrate another incident in a series of recent incidents of corruption, violations and scandal under the UC system. For instance, in an editorial, East Bay Times pointed to sexual harassment scandals at UC Berkeley and UCLA, as well as the recent investigation of the chancellor of UC Davis.

This incident also indicates the UC system’s efforts to keep such investigations confidential. An official investigative report on the matter was not released until ProPublica’s article was published last week, even though ProPublica filed a Public Records Act request in January.