Will the State Bar Hold Mike Feuer and Powerful Attorneys Accountable in the LADWP Billing Scandal?

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All eyes are on the State Bar of California as it conducts perhaps its biggest attorney misconduct investigation ever. Bar officials confirmed their investigation regarding the collusive Los Angeles Department of Water and Power billing litigation publicly for the first time Tuesday, telling a judge they will bring disciplinary action in as soon as three months.

The revelation came during the criminal sentencing of a former attorney for the city of Los Angeles, Paul Paradis. Paradis pleaded guilty to accepting a $2.1 million kickback after arranging for a puppet attorney to sue the city of Los Angeles as part of a litigation strategy to shift blame off city leaders over a malfunctioning billing system at DWP. Paradis says the strategy was authorized by City Attorney Mike Feuer and his right hand man, Jim Clark, and that Feuer during a Dec. 1, 2017 meeting also authorized the payoff of an extortionist who threatened to blow the whistle on the collusive lawsuit. A Public Records Act request indicates Feuer was calendared for a meeting on 12/1/17. Feuer said he does not remember it.

“On December 1, 2017, City Attorney Feuer participated in a meeting with his subordinates, including Thomas Peters, to discuss the extortion threat,” wrote Paradis in his letter to U.S. District Judge Stanley Blumenfeld. Peters was Feuer’s number three at the City Attorney’s Office who pled guilty to ordering the city’s outside counsel Paul Kiesel to make the payment. “During this meeting, Peters was directed to instruct Kiesel to pay the extortionist to buy her silence – else Kiesel risked being terminated as Special Counsel to the City in another litigation brought on behalf of the City,” wrote Paradis.

A text message from a top city official to Paradis following the meeting, which was filed in court, says, “Mike is not firing anyone at this point. But he is far from happy about the prospect of a sideshow.”

“The web of lies and deceit began with the ‘collusive litigation scheme’ that Chief Deputy Clark asked me and others to corruptly implement to achieve a collusive settlement in the Jones v. City class action on terms and a schedule that had secretly been dictated by the City Attorney’s office,” wrote Paradis.

“The collusive scheme was essentially implemented to enable the City Attorney’s office to ‘change the public narrative’ and re-direct public criticism away from elected city officials and toward PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP, the consulting firm that had implemented the LADWP’s defective billing system,” wrote Paradis.

For years now, city leaders have dismissed Paradis’s allegations as the lies of a felon, but the State Bar and federal prosecutors have been listening to him. He’s put in over 4,000 hours of cooperation with both agencies, leading to the charges of three city officials. Federal prosecutors and the Bar have called his cooperation “extraordinary” and “unprecedented.” According to public court filings, the Bar’s investigation comprises of at least 10 individuals, including Feuer, Clark and attorneys at the City Attorney’s Office and LADWP.

After dropping the ball on predatory attorneys like Tom Girardi, the State Bar of California now has an opportunity to restore the public’s confidence and go after those in positions of power. The State Bar’s investigation must conclude swiftly and transparently since many of those attorneys under investigation continue to work for the city and purport to represent the people’s interests. The public has a right to know if Mike Feuer, their former elected City Attorney and the top law enforcement officer in LA, was calling the shots on the collusive lawsuit and ordered the payment of an extortionist to cover it up.

At a previous sentencing hearing, the judge made clear he was privy to information showing the direction came from the very top of the City Attorney’s office and the Justice Department confirmed someone at the top was “the architect.”

The judge said in court Tuesday, “I’m concerned whether the State Bar is moving as expeditiously as possible. “Let me be clear: I have been presented information that raises significant concerns.”

Forced to disclose the timeline of its investigation to the judge, bar trial counsel Charles Calix said the Bar will go public with disciplinary action in as early as three months. He said the group under investigation is, “the largest group by several factors of attorneys accused of misconduct.”

Bar officials also noted in court that a couple attorneys have pleaded the 5th Amendment Against Self Incrimination as a tactic to run out the statute of limitations on certain charges.

The Bar investigation has been going on for over a year and a half now while the federal criminal investigation appears to have fizzled out without going after, or naming, those who appear to have directed the conduct. But the State Bar can pick up where prosecutors left off. Let’s hope it does.

Justin Kloczko
Justin Kloczko
Justin Kloczko follows tech and privacy for Consumer Watchdog. He’s a recovering daily newspaper reporter whose work has also appeared in Vice, Daily Beast and KCRW.

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