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Civil Litigation,
Ethics/Professional Responsibility

Apr. 29, 2019

City attorney says emails show ‘reprehensible breach of ethics’ in Los Angeles utility ratepayer case

The Los Angeles city attorney's office said Friday it has discovered a batch of emails by outside counsel hired to defend its interests in the controversial Department of Water & Power ratepayer settlement that revealed a "reprehensible breach of ethics."

Paul R. Kiesel of Kiesel Law LLP

The Los Angeles city attorney's office said Friday it has discovered a batch of emails by outside counsel hired to defend its interests in the controversial Department of Water & Power ratepayer settlement that revealed a "reprehensible breach of ethics."

"No City employee or officer sent or received any of these emails," stated a notice filed jointly by City Attorney Michael N. Feuer and his outside counsel, Eric M. George of Browne George Ross LLP.

The emails, dated to the days leading up to a 2015 ratepayer lawsuit against the city, indicate the city's special counsel Paul O. Paradis and Paul R. Kiesel sent a draft complaint of the class action to opposing counsel Michael Libman of Encino, who represented lead class plaintiff Antwon Jones along with Ohio attorney Jack Landskroner.

Landskroner was paid $15 million in a case with no discovery. Landskroner has since pleaded the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination when asked about his conduct in the case, including if he paid any money from the fees to Paradis.

"We are preparing the complaint for your review. Can you send me your State Bar number for inclusion in the draft complaint? I am including Paul Paradis, my cocounsel [sic], who is drafting this complaint," according to the March 3, 2015 email, which indicates it is from Kiesel.

The header of another email from Paradis to Kiesel dated March 25, 2015, with the subject line Jones v. City of Los Angeles, states:

"The letter that we discussed is attached. If you do not have any edits, please send it to Michael, have him put it on his letterhead and sign it and then send it back to me so that I can send it to Landskroner for his signature. Once it has been signed by both Michael and Jack Landskroner, I will have Jack serve it tomorrow."

A few days later another email shows Kiesel telling his opposing counsel Libman he would be "happy" to reimburse the costs of filing the lawsuit.

"The emails we've just discovered reveal a reprehensible breach of ethics by outside lawyers in whom our office placed trust. The conduct of previous outside counsel now coming to light was outrageous and inexcusable," said city attorney spokesman Rob Wilcox.

In a statement, Kiesel said he operated at the behest of the city.

"The only thing reprehensible is the disingenuous spin coming out of the City Attorneys office. To be clear, I was completely open, direct and candid with everyone at all levels of the City Attorneys office. The connection with Mr. Libman who I had met and Mr. Landskroner whom I did not know and had never met was at the express direction of the City Attorneys office and it's lawyers. The City Attorneys office was well aware and wanted this lawsuit brought against it so the city could insure a return to rate payers of 100% of what was overpaid. That is exactly what the City did. I have always conducted myself with the highest level of ethics. Neither I nor my firm played any role in drafting the complaint. This was done at the request of the City of Los Angeles."

Both Kiesel and Paradis withdrew from representing the city after collusion allegations were reported in the Daily Journal, and City Attorney Feuer opened an ethics investigation. The city maintained it did not know about any wrongdoing and said it did not find out about the latest emails until April 24.

"Previously, following concerns over the actions of these outside lawyers, the relationship between the City and those lawyers was severed, and the City Attorney retained an outside ethics expert to perform a broad review and issue a full report," the city said in an email Friday. "The attorneys engaged to replace the prior outside lawyers have been reviewing thousands of records to ensure transparency and the highest standards of ethics moving forward."

When he was deposed, Kiesel said he did not represent Jones but assisted Paradis' representation of him when he contemplated suing Pricewaterhouse Coopers LLC, though Jones testified he did not know Kiesel was involved in his representation.

Both Kiesel and Paradis were to be paid 20 percent of any settlement or damages recovered in the lawsuit against the company.

Staff Writer Paula Ewing contributed reporting for this article.


Justin Kloczko

Daily Journal Staff Writer

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