By Dakota Smith, LOS ANGELES TIMES

January 22, 2021

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-01-22/la-dwp-billing-scan…

The Van Nuys man whose lawsuit over a massive Los Angeles Department of Water and Power bill ultimately led to a tangled legal scandal and an FBI raid of City Hallhas filed a new lawsuit against the city.

The federal lawsuit by Antwon Jones alleges violation of civil rights and waste of taxpayer funds by the city. The lawsuit also names City Atty. Mike Feuer and two former high-ranking attorneys in his office: Jim Clark and Thom Peters.

The lawsuit claims the city and others used Jones as an “unwitting pawn” and that the city’s settlement of Jones’ class-action lawsuit over DWP billing errors “was the product of collusion and a fraud on the court.”

Jones’ lawsuit also seeks to bar the city and Feuer from “illegally expending and wasting more taxpayer funds to conceal and cover up their misconduct.”

Feuer, in a statement, called the lawsuit a “crude rehash of old allegations related to a settlement entitling ratepayers to receive every penny they were owed.”

“I’ve always acted with complete integrity, and always will,” Feuer said. “Any claim that even remotely suggests otherwise is not only absolutely false, it’s malicious.”

An attorney for Peters declined to comment. Clark’s attorney didn’t respond to a request for comment. Peters resigned from the city attorney’s office in 2019 and Clark stepped down last year. Both have previously denied wrongdoing.

Jones, who runs a candle company and has acted in the television shows “All American” and “Better Things,” first sued the city in 2015 after he received a $1,374 DWP bill — far higher than what he normally paid for service at his one-bedroom Van Nuys apartment. 

Jones hired New York attorney Paul Paradis, and ultimately became the lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against the city over the DWP’s faulty billing system. He received $5,000 for his role as class representative after the case was settled.

But that settlement came under scrutiny in 2019 when the consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers — defending itself in a related lawsuit brought by the city, which blamed the firm for the DWP billing debacle — uncovered evidence that Paradis had been retained by the city attorney’s office around the same time he represented Jones.

The consulting firm accused the city attorney’s office of taking part in a scheme to control the outcome of the class-action suit, which a representative for the office denied.

PricewaterhouseCoopers’ attorneys also raised questions about millions of dollars in city contracts and fees paid to attorneys in the Jones case. 

Months later, the FBI raided the DWP and city attorney’s office.

Jones, who hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing, alleges in his latest lawsuit that the city attorney’s office took part in the scheme to conceal and cover up their knowledge of Paradis’ dual role.

The suit asks the court to order Feuer, Clark and Peters to reimburse the city for “illegal and wasteful expenditures of public funds,” which include the cost of a $176,000 taxpayer-funded ethics review sought by Feuer in the wake of the allegations made by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The ethics review “falsely” exonerated the city of “wrongdoing and ethical violations,” according to the lawsuit.

Paradis, who has previously denied wrongdoing, isn’t named in this new lawsuit. His attorney didn’t respond to a request for comment about his former client’s latest lawsuit. 

Jones’ lawsuit claims that the city’s cover-up cost Jones the ability to file suit against Paradis because the time limit for him to do so expired.

As for the allegations that he was working for Jones and the city at the same time, Paradis has taken the position that he had transitioned representation of Jones to another attorney, according to Jones’ lawsuit. 

The lawsuit is one of several filed in the wake of allegations of unethical behavior by city attorneys and others in the handling of litigation stemming from the faulty DWP billing system. 

Another DWP customer, Dennis Bradshaw, filed a lawsuit in 2019 against the city, alleging that Jones’ attorneys and the city colluded to deprive class members of their rights in that case. 

Meanwhile, Paradis filed a defamation lawsuit in October against Ellen Pansky, the attorney hired by Feuer’s office to write the ethics review, and others. Asked this week for a response, Pansky told The Times: “Truth is an absolute defense to defamation.“

Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, has been following the legal saga for several years. 

Jones is “an average guy who got caught up in the middle of atrocious behavior by greedy lawyers,” Court said. “It’s his legal right now to rectify that abuse, to be made whole.”

 

Dakota Smith covers Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Hall for the Los Angeles Times.