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Kiesel out of LA water billing case

By Justin Kloczko | Mar. 7, 2019

Civil Litigation,
Ethics/Professional Responsibility

Mar. 7, 2019

Kiesel out of LA water billing case

Prominent Beverly Hills attorney Paul R. Kiesel stepped down Wednesday from his role as special counsel to the city of Los Angeles in litigation over incorrect water bills after it was revealed that co-counsel in a related case defending the city also represented the plaintiff.

Paul R. Kiesel of Kiesel Law LLP

LOS ANGELES --Prominent Beverly Hills attorney Paul R. Kiesel stepped down Wednesday from his role as special counsel to the city of Los Angeles in litigation over incorrect water bills after it was revealed that co-counsel in a related case defending the city also represented the plaintiff.

"The pursuit of the city's significant claims against Pricewaterhouse Coopers have been shoved to the background because Paul Kiesel's name has been involved in this as a sideshow," Kiesel's ethics consultant, Robert Kehr of Kehr, Schiff & Crane LLP, said in a phone interview Wednesday.

"Getting him out might make it simpler to move forward the city's significant claims," Kehr added. Los Angeles v. Pricewaterhouse Coopers LLP, BC574690.

The matter revolves around New York consumer attorney Paul O. Paradis, who was retained by the city of Los Angeles along with Kiesel to defend against a 2015 class action over city water mis-billing.

But filed documents and statements made in court this week show Paradis was already representing the plaintiff, Antwon Jones, and did so for at least three months while also representing the city's interests. Jones v. City of Los Angeles, BC577267 (L.A. Super. Ct., filed April 1, 2015).

The documents also allege counsel for the city drafted its own complaint and turned it over to Ohio attorney Jack Landskroner of Landskroner Grieco Merriman LLC, who was brought in by Paradis and filed the copycat suit five days later. A settlement offer by the city was made the next day, the documents show. Landskroner made $15 million after settling the case with no discovery.

Paradis was paid $1.8 million when that case settled, and along with Kiesel, had an agreement with the city to receive nearly 20 percent of attorney fees recovered in the city's case against the company that sold the faulty billing software, Pricewaterhouse Coopers LLC. The city attorney's office has not responded to multiple phone calls and emails regarding the matter.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Elihu M. Berle

The brouhaha ensnarling the city attorney's office caused Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Elihu M. Berle to question the ethics of the underlying settlement this week and leaves the city's claims against Pricewaterhouse Coopers up in the air.

Kiesel, a well-regarded plaintiffs' attorney, has distanced himself from Paradis and said he was never in an attorney-client relationship with the plaintiff.

"There was never any joint representation that Paul Kiesel had. Jones didn't know who Kiesel was. He only knew Paradis and Landskroner," said Kehr.

According to a deposition taken in February, Jones said he retained Paradis not knowing Paradis would be also representing the city, nor did he think Kiesel represented him.

"Did you understand at that time Mr. Kiesel to be representing you?"

"No," said Jones.

The deposition also indicates Jones initially wanted to sue Pricewaterhouse Coopers but he refrained on the advice of Paradis. He added that Paradis to this day never notified him that he is no longer his attorney.

Jones retained Paradis on Dec. 8, 2014. A little over a week later Paradis was retained by the city, along with Kiesel, according to court records.

In a charged hearing this week over the nondisclosure of the relationships, Berle ordered depositions of the attorneys, including Kiesel, barred the destruction of any city documents related to the case, and ordered the city to stop paying Paradis and Landskroner.

Berle grilled Landskroner, class counsel in the settled case, on whether any of the $19 million in attorney fees were paid to Paradis. His attorney, Mark. T. Drooks of Bird, Marella, Boxer, Wolpert, Nessim, Drooks, Lincenberg & Rhow PC, stood up repeatedly and pleaded the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination on behalf of his client.

Pricewaterhouse Coopers defense attorney Daniel J. Thomasch of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP alleged repeatedly to Berle that Kiesel, not just Paradis, represented for a time both the city and the plaintiff.

"It was a collusive scheme from its inception through today as the cover-up continues through a wall of privilege and obfuscation," Thomasch said in court Monday.

Tom Peters, head of the civil department at the city attorney's office and a former Kiesel Law partner, told Berle, "The city is unaware of any compensation being paid by anyone in any form to Mr. Kiesel or Mr. Paradis." Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court, who is not involved in the case, said in a letter to Feuer on Wednesday, "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."

Depositions of Landskroner and Paradis have gone forward this week. Kiesel is also expected to be deposed.

It is unclear if Paradis is still being retained by the city. Aventador Utility Systems, a company apparently named after a Lamborghini, received three no-bid contracts to remediate the city's billing fiasco pursuant to the Jones class action settlement. The contract was approved in June 2016, eight months before the company existed as a corporate entity. A principal in that company is one Paul O. Paradis, according to records.


Justin Kloczko

Daily Journal Staff Writer

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