The Power is in Just Showing Up

ERIC PREVEN’S NOTEBOOK - Ezra Klein had the opinion in the New York Times, that to protect democracy, Democrats have to win more elections. And to do that, they need to make sure the country’s local electoral machinery isn’t corrupted.

He was referring to the Trumpist right, but could have been referring to the First to Five, LA County Board of Supervisors or the LA City Clerk and the LA Superior Court, including Judge Mitchell Beckloff. 

Corrupted is ok, as long as it's legal.  

Ben Wikler, the chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, told the Times, he spends his days obsessing over mayoral races in 20,000-person towns, because those mayors appoint the city clerks who decide whether to pull the drop boxes for mail-in ballots and small changes to electoral administration could be the difference between winning Senator Ron Johnson’s seat in 2022 (and having a chance at democracy reform) and losing the race and the Senate. 

Amateurs talk strategy; professionals talk logistics. One expert said we need, " action in service of change, not information in service of outrage." 

I feel we do need both.  

While Congress can write, in some ways, rules or boundaries for how elections are administered, state legislatures are making decisions about who can and can’t vote.   

Counties and towns are making decisions about how much money they’re spending, what technology they’re using, the rules around which candidates can participate.” 

Here in Los Angeles,  the 500 signatures for a candidate to get on the ballot for the city council are inhibitory for new candidates and confusing.  In the 2020 cycle, the crude and bunglesome process mired in secrecy and incompetence... was brought to light in an earlier column.  

The council member's city clerk coordinates a dream team of signature checkers who do it in private. If you have questions, too bad.     

Gabriella Cázares-Kelly,  a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation, agreed to staff a voter registration booth at the community college where she worked, in Pima County, Ariz.  Cázares-Kelly learned that much of the authority over voter registration fell to an office neither she nor anyone around her knew much about: the County Recorder’s Office, which has authority over records ranging from deeds to voter registrations.  Here that office is held by Dean Logan.  

“I started contacting the records office and making suggestions and asking questions,” Cázares-Kelly told the New York Times.    Worried that a white supremacist might run, in 2020, she ran and won.  Now she’s the county recorder for a jurisdiction with nearly a million people, and more than 600,000 registered voters, in a swing state.   

 “One thing I was struck by when I first started getting involved in politics is how much power there is in just showing up to things,” she said. “If you love libraries, libraries have board meetings. Go to the public meeting. See where they’re spending their money. We’re supposed to be participating. If you want to get involved, there’s always a way.”


Tail heavy: 

Paul Krekorian, who is no longer my council person, said the state legislature simply has to do much more to lift people out of poverty.  He reminded his colleagues that twelve years ago, "the entire state budget was $100 Billion dollars. This year, the surplus alone is over $45 billion dollars." 

"When people come to us," Krekorian snarked, "we are the default government authority to fix everything in society," but so many things, he continued,  "are the state's principal responsibility...and funding."  

He rattled off his usual list: health, mental health, housing.  

Mike Bonin cited some homeless covid numbers, before trying to stem the tide of 41.18 clearouts of people from the streets to  congregate shelters. He said congregate shelters are against CDC guidelines and reminded his colleagues, " We ourselves have stopped meeting in a congregate setting. We shouldn't push people into that during a covid surge." 

Paul Koretz, carefully pivoted before voting to move forward, "these motions would enable enforcement, as opposed to causing it."  

Kevin Deleon, who is one of the most long-winded council members running for mayor in decades rambled on emphasizing both what Koretz and Bonin who were not in the agreement had said,  before reminding all that we are in a process by which we have to move and make the motions ... but not to worry,  "there will be no action." 

Let's "take away the drama" that some folks are introducing to this equation, Deleon said before using the term 'folks' 38 times in just a few minutes, as he regaled an impatient council and public with his experience on Christmas eve in the rain with his good folks from El Pueblo. 

"We've successfully housed 20 folks...(someone corrected him)  90 folks.  We have 18 folks in hotels, two other folks we put on a bus to Nashville."   

In the end, Deleon conceded, we have "18 folks left and they've severely addicted drug addicts." 

But let's not "play small ball..." he meandered on... 

There was one new narrative that emerged about some people experiencing homelessness for years who are now revealing that they have been paid to stay on the street. This should be carefully reported but the implication is that the bureaucracy sometimes referred to as the "homeless industrial complex" is colloquially and also literally... a death star. Not helping. 

Gil Cedillo was eager to roll off a few minutes of blather, in what he described as a 'robust' discussion" but Nury Martinez, indicated she'd had enough... on the subject. 

Staffer B John Lee was recognized and offered a celebration of Korean American day, way back in 1903, by handing off a lengthy Wikipedia entry reading to... Mitch O'Farrell.   

Korean culture, the food and entertainment Squid Game, BTS, the largest concentration of Koreans outside of Korea. O'Farrell noted the "rise in hate crimes" briefly before a segue to his BIG MOMENT.  Here, he honored his longtime Chief of staff, Jeanne Min, a member of the vibrant community for her many contributions, before trumpeting that Koreatown had been moved exclusively into his district.    

One could imagine Nithya Raman and MRT (et al.) at this juncture.  Angry emojis. 

The term 'contribution' always elicits a Pavlovian response among Council members and others running for office.  

As if to say,  "I, too, am running for office" Mr. Deleon, quickly trotted out high praise for Erin Pak and Chris Pak some of the most civically engaged and prodigious fundraisers in Los Angeles,  before landing on his long deep association with Courtni Pugh,a political consultant. 

Cedillo could not be held back, he jumped in to reference that his Debbie Kim, who he said had been working there since she was ten years old, was a great member of the community.  

Buscaino was offered a chance but ...couldn't come up with much, so thanked Cedillo's chief of staff, Debbie Kim as well.  

The fundraising wheels were spinning...  

Deleon delivered a phrase in Korean.  


Rabbi Fraud:

“I have let myself down and everything that I have taught, and everything that I have preached for 40 years, and allowed myself to be seduced to a very dark place, allowing the power of money to get the better part of my soul,"  

Could that have been said by Jose Huizar or Mitchell Englander or Mark Ridley-Thomas or even Mike Feuer or Mayor Garcetti,  I thought as I read that quote. 

Englander was apologetic, but is already out of jail and doing some time at a Long Beach halfway house.  MRT, last we checked is fighting like hell, so still in denial. It couldn't be him.  

Jose Huizar is playing long ball. He's gambling that the bunglesome Feds will stumble in his complicated and protracted trial by litigation.  

The answer:  

The dark place speech was from Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, the repentant rabbi of the Poway synagogue. He issued that heartfelt apology after being caught by federal authorities.  

Rabbi Goldstein rose to national prominence after being wounded in an antisemitic shooting and was then exposed as the perpetrator of multimillion-dollar fraud schemes, was sentenced last week to 14 months in prison.  

After the attack at the Poway Synagogue, Rabbi Goldstein delivered words of hope — including an impromptu speech while standing on a chair right after the shooting and appearances at the White House and United Nations.  

No one else knew at the time that he was the subject of a fraud investigation that had been open for more than a year.  

The FBI says Goldstein had his hand in several fraudulent schemes exploiting tax loopholes, corporate benevolence, and government grant assistance. Prosecutors said he earned at least $620,000   

The most prevalent of the schemes is known as the “90/10" fraud. Donors regularly made large charitable contributions to Chabad of Poway or one of its affiliated nonprofits, to be written off their taxes.  

But instead of the money going to the organizations, Goldstein secretly funneled 90% of it back to the donor, keeping 10% for himself.   

At least a dozen people took Goldstein up on the tax-evasion scheme, resulting in at least $1.5 million in tax losses to the Internal Revenue Service.  Goldstein also falsely certified that his associates completed community service hours at Chabad as part of a court order.  

Goldstein applied for $937,000 in relief and grant money over the years, falsely claiming the funds were needed to upgrade security at the synagogue, repair nonexistent damage caused by 2007 wildfires, implement special programming or upgrade his living quarters.  

However, the investigation found that some of Goldstein’s schemes date back as early as the 1980s, including a long-running conspiracy to help at least one man shield from taxes more than $2 million in fake donations.  

Goldstein is further accused of helping his brother in New York also hide $700,000 in income by depositing money in Chabad bank accounts, with the then-rabbi getting a cut.  

He must self-surrender by Feb. 23, although he could appeal for a later date if COVID-19 continues to surge.  

Fourteen months seems light, as that's what Englander got for one count of lying to authorities. 


Great Work:

Dear Duane Morris:

Please inform "the estate" attorney in FLA that we have no objection to her seeking a neurological examination at her own expense re: her constant infuriating interruptions.   

We reached out on behalf of a client with whom we have some shared real property interests. We'd been directed to speak with her by a Trustee.   

Our client had died a couple of years ago and for many years had struggled to uphold her responsibilities as a feeding frenzy of unscrupulous attorneys were constantly feeding off of her.   

I'm not sure what type of crises the attorney might have been experiencing today, but I am willing to forgive her if, for instance, she was somehow off of her medication, which would explain her monstrous behavior. 

I'm especially surprised because today was our first-ever telephone conversation and I don't believe we are opposed or in any type of conflict.   

It was quite maddening, as every single time I opened my mouth to speak, she would interrupt and interject.   

Eventually, after three minutes, I implored her to let me finish, until finally, her best-in-class unwillingness to listen finally resulted in my using the term 'bullshit' and suddenly, the bossy Attila-the-Hun-look-a-like, wilted like a little flower petal and hung up.  

The conduct of this attorney today falls far beneath any standard the legal community and population of 'stupid rich clients' we adore have come to expect from Duane Morris. 

The attitude on display today, served no constructive purpose other than to promote distrust and conflict. Great work.


Dismal numbers: Nothing to see

The County Counsel working closely with Sheila Kuehl, has phased out the accountability that the Board of Supervisors at one time sought over the county's legal fighting. In anticipation of the next report from 2020-21 which should have been out in September 2021, so already four months from the agreed-upon goal.  Here are some boiled down excerpts: 

On February 17, 2021, the County Counsel published the annual litigation expenses for Fiscal Year ("FY") 19-20 totaled $151.9 million, up two percent from $148.5 million spent in FY 18-19.  The increase was due to a $7.3 million increase in fees. 

The costliest judgment paid in FY 19-20 involved DHS (Cobb; Case No. BC582690 — $10.9 million) and arose from a 2015 incident that occurred when the plaintiff was struck by an industrial forklift, operated by a DHS employee while walking in a marked crosswalk near the LAC+USC Medical Center. Plaintiff sustained fractures to his left foot that required fusion surgery on his toe and skin graft surgery on his lower legs.  

As the trial commenced in August 2017, the County conceded liability but reserved the right to argue that the plaintiff was comparatively negligent. After a 10-day trial, the jury returned a verdict in the plaintiff's favor for $10,897,637, of which $9.8 million was for non-economic (pain and suffering) damages. The County appealed the number of non-economic damages as excessive, but the appellate court affirmed the judgment in May 2019. The final judgment, totaling $11,366,106, including interest and court costs, was paid in FY 19-20. 

The third costliest judgment involved LASD (Mendez; Case No. 11-CV-04771 — $1 million) and arose from a 2010 incident that occurred when LASD deputies shot two residents while searching for an armed felon in a row of woodsheds behind a single-family residence in Lancaster. Believing the sheds were unoccupied, deputies entered one of the sheds and saw the silhouette of a man holding a rifle. The deputies fired, shooting Mendez, a lawful resident, and his pregnant wife. They sued for civil rights violations based on unlawful search and seizure and the use of excessive force. After a bench trial, the judge denied the excessive force claim, found that the deputies violated the plaintiffs' constitutional rights by entering the shed where the plaintiffs resided without a warrant or announcing their presence, and awarded the plaintiffs $4,098,698 in damages and $1,695,730 in attorneys' fees and costs. After multiple appeals, the court determined the plaintiffs' injuries were caused by the deputies' unconstitutional, warrantless entry (not excessive force) and that the trial court's decision could be affirmed under either a constitutional theory or a negligence theory, and ruling that the plaintiffs were entitled to additional fees and costs for the appeal. The County agreed to pay the plaintiffs $1,040,000 in attorneys' fees and costs for the appeals, which the court incorporated into the final judgment, ultimately entering judgment for the plaintiffs for $6,876,516, including damages, attorneys' fees, costs, and interest. LASD paid the bulk of the judgment, $5,836,516, in FY 18-19. In FY 19-20, LASD paid the remainder, for $1,040,000. 

The County paid $72.2 million for 239 settlements in FY 19-20, an increase of 20 percent compared to the $60.4 million spent in FY 18-19. 

The sixth costliest settlement in FY 19-20 (Lindsey; Case No. 17-CV03886 — $2.25 million) arose from the 2011 arrest and prosecution of Abraham Rueda ("Rueda"). When Rueda was prosecuted on drug charges, he produced a video of his arrest that conflicted with written reports by LASD deputies and suggested that there was no probable cause to search or arrest him. Due to the inconsistencies, the District Attorney's Office dismissed the criminal case against Rueda and later filed a felony complaint against the deputies for filing a false report. A jury acquitted the deputies in 2015. In 2017, the deputies sued, alleging that they were selectively prosecuted for filing false police reports when other similarly situated deputies were not, that a former undersheriff pressured the District Attorney's Office into filing criminal charges against them to satisfy a personal vendetta, and that the prosecutor failed to turn over exculpatory evidence. The lawsuit was settled for $2.25 million, which was split between LASD and the District Attorney's Office. 

Contract counsel fees and costs totaled $48.5 million in FY 19-20, an increase of 20 percent from the $40.5 million paid in FY 18-19.

Contract counsel fees rose to $42.2 million in FY 19-20, up to $8.3 million or 24 percent, from the $33.9 million paid in FY 18-19.  

In FY 19-20, the County disposed of 191 lawsuits without payment of any settlements, judgments, or attorneys' fees to opposing parties and any County liability. Of these 191 dismissals, 161, or 84 percent, resulted from voluntary dismissals effectuated by plaintiffs and or their attorneys, often resulting from a pretrial court ruling exposing defects in the lawsuit or insufficient evidence to win at trial. Of the 191 dismissals, 30, or 16 percent, were involuntary dismissals effectuated by the court, usually after a successful, dispositive motion by the County, such as a demurrer, motion to dismiss, motion for summary judgment, or discovery motion resulting in terminating sanctions.  

The number of new lawsuits in which the County was served rose 11 percent, from 762 in FY 18-19 to 844 in FY 19-20. This is consistent with the trend over the past four years, as the number of new lawsuits has increased every year since FY 15-16.  

LASD was sued more often than any other County department in FY 19-20. LASD was served with 194 lawsuits in FY 19-20, unchanged from FY 18-19.  

DPW was a distant second again this year, with 60 new lawsuits in FY 19-20, up from 47 in FY 18-19. Closely following DPW was DHS, with 40 new lawsuits, down from 42 in FY 18-19, and DCFS, with 35 new lawsuits, down from 44 in FY 18-19. 

The County prevailed in three of the eight trials in FY 19-20, a success rate of 38 percent, lower than the four-year average success rate of 49 percent. 

LASD employment lawsuit In Rodriguez, (Rodriguez; Case No. BC680213) the plaintiff was an LASD deputy who alleged that he was subjected to a hostile work environment, harassment, and retaliation after refusing to sign false police reports and engage in other unlawful activity. The jury returned a verdict in the plaintiff's favor in October 2019, awarding a total of $8,115,000 and $214,791 in attorneys' fees, which the County is appealing.  

One notable appellate victory this year was Flores (Case No. B287382). In Flores, the plaintiff was a clerk employed by a temporary staffing agency, AppleOne, and assigned to the Probation Department. In 2016, she sued the County for discrimination, sexual harassment, retaliation, and failure to prevent discrimination and retaliation. In 2017, the jury found in the County's favor on the claims of discrimination and sexual harassment but returned a verdict for the plaintiff on the retaliation and failure to prevent discrimination and retaliation claims, awarding her $62,127 in damages and $743,731 in attorneys' fees and costs. After the County appealed, the Court of Appeal reversed the jury verdict and the attorneys' fee award and directed that judgment be entered in favor of the County on all claims.  

A Global settlement was reached with So Cal Edison. The County received $62.3 million from SCE in the settlement. The funding will help compensate the County —and its taxpayers —for extensive firefighting and emergency response costs, recovery efforts, infrastructure damage, injury to natural resources, loss of tax revenue, and other significant public losses that resulted from the Woolsey Fire.


(Eric Preven is a longtime community activist and is a contributor to CityWatch. The opinions expressed by Eric Preven are solely his and not the opinions of CityWatch)