Testimony and documents submitted in federal court earlier this month said that an outside attorney retained to defend the city and the utility also represented a ratepayer who was the lead plaintiff in a 2015 class action lawsuit against the city. The city attorney’s office said it is investigation the allegation.
By Elizabeth Chou, LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS
March 14, 2019
A critic of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power called on the state’s top prosecutor this week to investigate the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office over how it handled a legal settlement to remedy 2013 billing errors that overcharged some customers and undercharged others.
Jamie Court, president of the nonprofit group Consumer Watchdog, alleged in a letter Wednesday to Attorney General Xavier Becerra that because of a possible legal conflict of interest, customers were “denied a fair settlement,” and have failed to receive “a resolution to their billing error problems, which continue to this day.”
Testimony and documents submitted in federal court earlier this month said that an outside attorney retained to defend the city and the utility also represented a ratepayer who was the lead plaintiff in a 2015 class action lawsuit against the city.
In a statement, the City Attorney’s Office said it had not been informed of the possibility that the attorney was retained by both sides and was investigating if the allegation was true. City Attorney Mike Feuer said last week that his office has been consulting with legal ethics expert Ellen Pansky to review the allegations.
Paradis and a co-counsel, Paul Kiesel, are no longer representing the city in the litigation with software company Pricewaterhousecooper, he said.
The testimony and documents were provided by Pricewaterhousecooper’s attorney.
Paul Paradis, who represented the city and LADWP, was also retained by Antwon Jones, a Van Nuys resident who was the face of the class action lawsuit against the city over the bill mix-ups, according to the testimony.
“That is unethical, any way you slice it,” said Court.
Jones considered Paradis his attorney during the time he was represented by Jack Landskroner, a Cleveland-based attorney who was the lead on the class-action lawsuit, according to court testimony.
The billing errors occurred following a roll-out of a new customer-information system developed by Pricewaterhousecooper.
Court alleged that the involvement of Paradis on different sides of the case haD deeper implications. He said it gave the attorneys representing the city the ability to “control the settlement.”
“By settling, the case went away, the DWP didn’t have to answer tough questions,” he said.
Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for Feuer’s office, said their understanding was that Paradis had been retained by Jones for “the purpose of potentially suing” Pricewaterhousecooper. But they denied that they knew Jones may have also been represented by Paradis on the case involving LADWP and that the allegation was being investigated.
The City Attorney’s Office “was never apprised that outside counsel may concurrently have been representing Mr. Jones on a possible matter against LADWP at the same time outside counsel was representing LADWP (in its case against PWC) — if in fact that was true,” according to a statement from the office.
“Nor, to the best of the City Attorney’s knowledge, was any member of the City Attorney’s staff ever previously apprised of this possibility,” the statement said. “To the contrary, Mr. Paradis has consistently old City Attorney staff this is not the case.”
But Court dismissed those dinstinctions and said the City Attorney’s Office should not be investigating itself.
Elizabeth Chou has reported on Los Angeles City Hall government and politics since 2013, first with City News Service, and now the Los Angeles Daily News since the end of 2016. She grew up in the Los Angeles area, and formerly a San Gabriel Valley girl. She now resides in the other Valley, and is enjoying exploring her new San Fernando environs. She previously worked at Eastern Group Publications, covering Montebello, Monterey Park, City of Commerce, and Vernon.