Op-Ed by Susan Shelley, THE LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS
March 19, 2019
Solid evidence of collusion has emerged, but not where you may have been expecting to see it.
The revelations came to light in a Los Angeles courtroom recently, where L.A. Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle is presiding over what Perry Mason author Erle Stanley Gardner might have called, “The Case of the Twice-Screwed Ratepayers.”
You may recall that a few years ago, many LADWP customers were ripped off by excessive charges for water after a new billing system was implemented. If you received one of those erroneous bills, you may still be unconscious on the floor in the spot where you opened it.
A class-action lawsuit on behalf of ratepayers was filed in April 2015, and a $67 million settlement was reached less than 90 days later. A total of $19 million in attorney fees was part of the settlement.
But it turns out that the same attorneys were on both sides of the negotiation.
Paul Paradis and Paul Kiesel, two special counsels who were working for the office of L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer, have now resigned after revelations that they were also representing the lead plaintiff in the case, LADWP customer Antwon Jones. A third lawyer, Ohio attorney Jack Landskroner, collected $15 million of the attorney fees and recently pleaded the Fifth Amendment when Judge Berle asked if he had paid any of that money back to the two lawyers who were working for Feuer.
And there’s more. In the settlement, a company controlled by Paul Paradis was awarded $36 million in no-bid contracts. The company, Aventador Utility Solutions, happens to share the name of a $400,000 Lamborghini, and its address is a $3.9 million oceanfront condo in Santa Monica. A $30 million no-bid contract was approved for Aventador in June 2016 even though it didn’t exist as a corporate entity until the following March.
On March 14, the LADWP Board ordered the $30 million contract terminated, but Aventador has already been paid $21.9 million of public money.
Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, wrote in a letter to Feuer, “This is public corruption of the worst kind. It involved a cover-up. It also comes at a huge cost to ratepayers and the City.”
Court says the two special counsels who were working for Feuer’s office were “double agents” who secretly recruited the Ohio attorney, wrote the papers he filed with the court, and controlled both sides of the case.
“That allowed the City and DWP to settle the ratepayer case inappropriately, without embarrassment or discovery, then turn around and sue the company that installed the software billing system for tens of millions of dollars instead,” Court wrote.
Consumer Watchdog is calling on California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to investigate the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office “to uncover all unethical and criminal conduct and to protect the public.” In a letter to Becerra, Court wrote, “Where the lead attorney for the class of ratepayers who have been mis-billed by DWP has to take the Fifth Amendment, there clearly is a conflict of interest.”
Mike Feuer says he has hired an ethics expert who is reviewing the matter.
But that still leaves open the question, what did Feuer know and when did he know it?
The Los Angeles Daily Journal reports that according to a deposition transcript, one of Feuer’s top aides, Chief Deputy City Attorney James P. Clark, knew that the outside attorney working for the city, Paul Paradis, had also been representing plaintiff Antwon Jones because he saw his name on the draft of the complaint.
Asked if he told Feuer, Clark stated, “I’m sure I did. We met twice a week. I advise him of what’s going on. I have no specific recollection of advising him.”
This is something that should concern all Los Angeles residents and all members of the L.A. City Council. The allegation of conflict of interest in the City Attorney’s office raises questions about every settlement that’s negotiated on behalf of the city.
Recently, the City Council voted 10-2 to allow Feuer to settle the Mitchell v. Los Angeles lawsuit instead of going to court. This is the lawsuit filed by civil rights attorneys on behalf of homeless downtown residents that is currently responsible for restricting the clean-up of trash and hazardous materials on the sidewalks and streets.
The residents of Los Angeles have the right to expect that the City Attorney will fight for them, not hire lawyers to collude against them.
Where’s Perry Mason when you need him.
Susan Shelley is an editorial writer and columnist for the Southern California News Group. S[email protected]. Twitter: @Susan_Shelley.