LOS ANGELES -- The head of the Los Angeles city attorney's civil division and a key figure in the water and power billing fiasco has resigned, although the reason for it remains unclear.
Thomas H. Peters reported in city disclosure forms that he received more than $100,000 in referral fees from the law office of Anthony M. DeMarco in 2017, as well as separate payments of between $10,000 and $100,000 from the DeMarco firm and from Panish, Shea & Boyle LLP firm in 2018.
The Los Angeles Times reported it raised the issue of fees to the office of City Attorney Michael N. Feuer, which said Peters had "resigned" and that it was not aware of the issue. But it's unclear if the reason Peters no longer works for the city is due to collecting attorney fees or also because of his connection to controversial litigation tied to water and power billing, which has been ensnared by allegations of collusion with opposing counsel.
The city attorney's office did not responded to the Daily Journal's requests seeking comment.
The fees don't appear to be related to the water and power litigation. Such fees, which are paid to an attorney for passing along a case, can also be submitted after related litigation has ended. DeMarco told the Times the fees were for cases predating Peters joining the city attorney's office.
Peters testified in a deposition that he knew the main plaintiff in the Department of Water & Power's settlement of a ratepayer class action was also for at least a time represented by private counsel hired by the city to defend its interests in the billing cases. Those counsel were Paul R. Kiesel of Kiesel Law LLP in Beverly Hills and Paul O. Paradis of New York -- both of whom have since withdrawn from working for the city. Jones v. City of Los Angeles, BC577267 (L.A. Super. Ct., filed April 1, 2015).
Peters, a former partner at Kiesel Law LLP, has been fingered as the gatekeeper in the Department of Water & Power litigation brought by ratepayer Antwon Jones. Both Kiesel and Deputy City Attorney James P. Clark testified in depositions that Peters knew Jones was being represented by Paradis but never raised the issue to Jones or his lawyer.
Clark and Kiesel testified that Peters was the one who directed Paradis to draft a complaint against the company that provided the software billing to the city, Pricewaterhouse Coopers LLP, with Jones as the plaintiff represented by Paradis and Kiesel. Los Angeles v. Pricewaterhouse Coopers LLP, BC574690 (L.A. Super Ct., filed March 6, 2015)
When Jones eventually wanted to go through with suing the city, Ohio attorney Jack Landskroner was introduced to Jones by Paradis over email six days before the complaint was filed on April 1, 2015, according to court documents. Jones, through his attorney Jeffrey Isaacs of Isaacs Friedberg LLP, said the plaintiff was under the impression Landskroner was being added to his team, not replacing it.
Landskroner was paid about $15 million in the settlement, in which no discovery was performed. He's since pleaded the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination and is seeking to withdraw from the case.
Both Kiesel and Paradis were to be paid 20 percent of any settlement or damages recovered in the lawsuit against the company. Paradis was also paid $1.8 million by the city.
Peters testified in his deposition that the draft complaint was a "thought experiment" that was "never intended to be filed."
Kiesel said his name was put on the draft complaint without his permission and has denied jointly representing Jones.
Clark, Feuer's No. 2, said he discussed drafting the complaint with Peters.
"Mr. Peters was the one that made the request to prepare the document," testified Clark.
Kiesel said it was Clark and Peters who directed Paradis to draft the complaint.
Pricewaterhouse Coopers defense counsel Daniel J. Thomasch also asked Kiesel if the city was aware of Jones' representation by Mr. Paradis before April 1, 2015, the date of the filing of the Jones complaint.
"And who at the city was aware?" asked Thomasch.
"I believe Mr. Clark was aware of it. I believe Mr. Peters was aware of it. I believe the attorneys at the Liner firm were aware of it," testified Kiesel.
"Did you inform Mr. Peters that you had personal knowledge that Mr. Paradis had an attorney-client relationship with Mr. Jones from December of 2014 through late March of 2015?" asked Thomasch
"That was known," testified Kiesel.
Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, who is not involved in the litigation, said Peters was the "point person" in the Jones case.
"His resignation is one more way of Feuer distancing himself from the scandal and trying to show he is cleaning up his shop," said Court.
Publicly, Feuer's office has said it was not apprised of any adverse representation and is undergoing an attorney misconduct investigation.
"The city attorney 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," spokesman Rob Wilcox previously told the Daily Journal.
"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. To the contrary, Mr. Paradis has consistently told city attorney staff this is not the case," he said.
Clark, meanwhile, has since made multiple changes to his deposition in a submitted errata sheet. There is one exchange that he didn't amend:
"Did anyone in the city attorney's office consider whether it was ethical for Mr. Paradis to not inform Mr. Jones of the nature of his conflict yet be the person who recommended counsel to Mr. Jones?" asked Thomasch.
"No," said Clark.
Paradis' company, Aventador Utility Solutions, apparently named after a $400,000 Lamborghini, was paid nearly $22 million for remediating the billing problems before recently having its no-bid contract canceled by the city. And according to a recent deposition, it was also the car Paradis drove since his hiring by the city.