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Civil Litigation

Apr. 18, 2019

Judge selects Kabateck to represent class in water ratepayer settlement

A superior court judge Wednesday selected consumer attorney Brian S. Kabateck to represent water and power ratepayers who might have been defrauded as part of an allegedly collusive settlement scheme.

Brian S. Kabateck of Kabateck LLP

LOS ANGELES -- A superior court judge Wednesday selected consumer attorney Brian S. Kabateck to represent a class of water and power ratepayers who might have been defrauded as part of an allegedly collusive settlement scheme.

Judge Elihu M. Berle chose Kabateck, a well-known Southern California trial lawyer, over a number of firms vying to represent the class. It has been unrepresented since Ohio attorney Jack Landskroner of Landskroner Grieco Merriman LLC pleaded the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination regarding questions about his conduct in the $67 million settlement.

Landskroner withdrew from the case but not before collecting $15 million for his work in a settlement with no discovery. He was accused of colluding with opposing special counsel representing the city of Los Angeles. The attorneys resigned from representing the city and an ethics investigation was launched. Antwon Jones v. City of Los Angeles, BC577267 (L.A. Super. Ct., filed April 1, 2015).

"Mr. Kabateck is highly qualified and has a substantial experience in class action litigation," Berle told a crowded Spring Street courtroom Wednesday. "He has no affiliation with anyone involved with this case."

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Elihu M. Berle

Greenberg Gross LLP and Timothy G. Blood of Blood Hurst & O'Reardon LLP also angled to represent the class.

"Brian is a very good choice. The judge is taking a cautious route given the history of the case," said Blood, a longtime objector to the settlement who represents another class of plaintiffs that sued the city over incorrect bills.

Berle made clear Kabateck's priority was representing the class and not as a special investigator vetting the entire matter.

"That type of investigation of issues will be left to others," Berle said.

Everyone from forensic accountants to retired judges have been proposed to serve as auditors to look into the settlement's financial paper trial. Candidates include David J. Pasternak of Pasternak, Pasternak & Alsbrook; forensic accountant Samuel Willoughby of Aon Cyber; tax litigators Hochman Salkin Toscher Perez PC; as well as mediators Ann Kough, Louis M. Meisinger and Daniel Weinstein.

City Attorney Michael N. Feuer, who said he was unaware of any potential attorney misconduct, hired Ellen A. Pansky of Pansky Markle to perform an internal investigation.

The city's case against the software billing company Pricewaterhouse Coopers LLC is set for trial next year, but its fate is also up in the air following collusion allegations. Los Angeles v. Pricewaterhouse Coopers LLP, BC574690 (L.A. Super Ct., filed March 6, 2015).

Kabateck, who heads Kabateck LLP, has previously been brought in to render solvent the Los Angeles County Bar Association, which for years was financially redlining. Last year, he secured a near $40 million verdict on behalf of residents who sued the owner of a Long Beach mobile home for elder abuse.

"I was grateful for the kind things Judge Berle said about me. I am committed to the case. I am going to roll up my sleeves and dive in," Kabateck commented by phone.

Los Angeles City Attorney Michael N. Feuer

Kabateck did not say who he is endorsing for the role of special master but said he is analyzing all candidates.

In his motion to be appointed class counsel, Kabateck said he would seek to bring the remaining ratepayer plaintiffs' lawyers to the table to evaluate the case and present to the court a plan of action in 90 days. Before announcing his decision, Berle summoned before him Antwon Jones, the lead class plaintiff who touched off litigation nearly four years ago after receiving an incorrect water bill charging him thousands of dollars. Jones recommended hiring Greenberg Gross.

"If the court selects someone else, would you be able to work with that attorney?" asked Berle.

After a long pause Jones said, "I haven't thought about it, but yes."


Justin Kloczko

Daily Journal Staff Writer

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