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Huizar returns to City Hall for first time since searches

Councilman tells reporter, ‘I’m here to do my job.’

LOS ANGELES —City Councilman Jose Huizar took his seat in the council chamber in downtown Los Angeles Nov. 20, marking his first appearance at a council meeting since the FBI searched his home and offices.

Huizar walked in just as the meeting was starting, but then exited into a back room after about 10 minutes. A handful of reporters waited for him in a hallway, but both a Huizar staffer and a Los Angeles Police Department officer said the councilman did not intend to make any formal statements to the media. As the reporters were dispersing he walked out of the room and back onto the council chamber floor.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Huizar said prior to entering the council chamber, “I’m here to do my job. I’m here to work.”

Huizar had not attended any City Council meetings since FBI agents armed with a search warrant seized boxes and bags of potential evidence from his City Hall office on Nov. 7 while also conducting searches at his Boyle Heights home and Boyle Heights field office.

The FBI has not publicly stated what the searches were about, and no one has been arrested as a result of them. Council President Herb Wesson followed the searches by removing Huizar from all of his City Council committee seats, including from his chairmanship of the influential Planning and Land Use Management Committee.

The last time Huizar was in serious political hot water was 2013, when he faced a lawsuit from a former staffer who accused him of harassment and retaliation, and Wesson was quick to publicly support Huizar then, telling a crowd at a fundraiser that Huizar “is like my brother, he is my best friend on the council. I trust him with my life. He does the same for me.”

Huizar admitted to an affair with the former staffer, Francine Godoy, but denied any harassment or retaliation. The lawsuit was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum, and a report from the city’s Special Committee on Investigative Oversight concluded there was no evidence of wrongdoing by Huizar.

Wesson has offered no such public support for Huizar following the FBI searches, and after he stripped him of all of his committee assignments last week, his spokeswoman, Vanessa Rodriguez, offered a short statement that said, “We’re optimistic Angelenos will be best served by these changes as the Los Angeles City Council continues the people’s work without interruption.”

The FBI searches came weeks after two of Huizar’s former staff members filed separate lawsuits accusing him of ethics violations and other misdeeds, although it is unknown if the FBI searches are related to the lawsuits.

Mayra Alvarez served as Huizar’s executive assistant and scheduler for about three years, but contends in her lawsuit, which was filed in October, that she left in July because she was demoted after returning from maternity leave.

The lawsuit makes a number of allegations, including that Huizar would direct Alvarez to alter his calendar entries to conceal the nature of his meetings from public and media scrutiny.

“Huizar did not want the media or general public to know that he was meeting with certain lobbyists and developers — particularly when their particular issue or project was soon to be considered by the City Council or the Planning and Land Use Management Committee,” according to the complaint. “Those meetings were, of course, often followed close in time by donations to Huizar’s campaign coffers.”

A second lawsuit was filed about a week later by Pauline Medina, a former staffer for Huizar. Medina alleges that Huizar launched a campaign to push her out in 2017 after she told the councilman’s chief of staff that her boss was in a relationship with someone else in the office. Medina also alleges that Huizar secretly used city funds to pay for his personal expenses.

Huizar, whose wife, Richelle Huizar, announced in September she was running to fill his City Council seat in 2020, has denied the allegations included in both lawsuits, calling them politically motivated.

“It is nothing more than a hit piece orchestrated by political operatives who seek to undermine all the good work I’ve accomplished on behalf of my constituents,” Huizar said in a statement about Alvarez’s lawsuit after it was filed. “I find it suspicious that these claims have surfaced now when my wife has announced her candidacy for my seat. This further supports that this is politics at its worst.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti has not commented on the FBI searches, which came roughly seven weeks after Richelle Huizar announced that she would be running to fill her husband’s seat, as he is prevented from running again due to term limits. Richelle Huizar had been serving on the Los Angeles Commission on the Status of Women since 2017, but resigned her post on Oct. 30.

It has been common practice for some time for city commissioners to resign if they announce they are seeking elected office, and Derek Humphrey, a political consultant who helped launch Richelle Huizar’s campaign, said in an email to City News Service that “the resignation was in order to comply with a policy laid out by the mayor’s office related to commissioners who declare as candidates for office.” 

Garcetti’s office would not confirm this or comment on Richelle Huizar’s resignation.

Huizar has served on the City Council since 2005 while representing Council District 14, which stretches from Eagle Rock to downtown Los Angeles.

By CRAIG CLOUGH

City News Service