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Suits by former aides may continue against Huizar

LOS ANGELES — For the second time in less than a week, a judge has ruled a lawsuit brought by a former employee of City Councilman Jose Huizar can move forward, but this time there were no limitations placed on the plaintiff’s ability to depose the lawmaker.

Former Huizar aide Mayra Alvarez alleges in her lawsuit filed against Huizar and the city in October 2018 in Los Angeles Superior Court that Huizar retaliated against her for expressing concern about an alleged affair he was having and for speaking out against what she believes are legal and ethical violations. She served as Huizar’s executive assistant and scheduler for about three years, but contends in her lawsuit that she left in July 2018 because she was demoted after returning from maternity leave.

Judge Richard Rico ruled that an ongoing FBI investigation into Huizar is not a reason to put a hold on Alvarez’s case pending the outcome of the probe, despite the councilman’s argument that failing to do so could harm his ability to defend himself in any criminal matter.

“The court agrees [with Alvarez] that Huizar’s contentions that the criminal investigation and the civil case are related are wholly conclusory,” Rico wrote in his ruling.

Huizar has not shown how Alvarez’s suit would provide any incriminating evidence against the councilman, Rico wrote. The judge said his ruling is “without prejudice,” meaning Huizar can renew his argument for a stay if there is a legal justification to do so.

On June 20, Judge Ruth Kwan issued a ruling allowing former Huizar staffer Pauline Medina’s case against Huizar to proceed. Medina sued in 2018, alleging Huizar began a campaign to push her out in 2017 after she told the councilman’s chief of staff that her married 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 has denied any wrongdoing.

Kwan said Medina, unlike Rico, cannot depose Huizar while the FBI probe is in progress. Rico told lawyers that he was aware of Kwan’s ruling and said he assumed Huizar would take the Fifth Amendment and decline to testify if he is ordered to sit for a deposition.

Attorney Terrence Jones, who represents Medina and Alvarez, said after the hearing that Rico’s order allows him to seek a deposition of the councilman in the near future.

Alvarez alleges that Huizar frequently asked her to alter his official calendar entries in order to conceal the nature of his meetings from public scrutiny, and that city staff were directed to work on the campaign of his wife, Richelle, who dropped her bid to replace her husband when his term expires in 2020 in November, two weeks after the FBI conducted searches of her home and two of her husband’s offices.

In court papers filed Dec. 20 answering the Alvarez suit, attorneys for both Huizar and the city say that in addition to judgment in their clients’ favors, both should be awarded attorneys’ fees from Alvarez.

“Plaintiff’s complaint, and each cause of action set forth therein, are frivolous and known by plaintiff to be frivolous and without foundation in fact or law,” the court papers filed by the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office state. “Accordingly, defendant city is entitled to attorneys’ fees and other appropriate costs and expenses.”

In their court papers, Huizar’s lawyers state that their client denies the two Alvarez causes of action pertaining to him, workplace harassment and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

“The conduct complained of was not severe or pervasive,” Huizar’s lawyers state in their court papers.

In addition, any recovery by Alvarez “is barred by the fact that there was no intent to injure [Alvarez],” according to Huizar’s lawyers’ court papers.

All actions taken by Huizar regarding Alvarez were “business or personnel management decisions and thus not actionable,” Huizar’s lawyers state in their court papers.

Alvarez’s complaint alleges she suffered a backlash for voicing concern over an affair Huizar was allegedly having with another staffer, although it does not identify the woman involved. Huizar previously admitted to an affair with a former staffer, Francine Godoy, who sued him for harassment and retaliation in 2013. Huizar admitted the affair but denied any harassment.

Shortly after the Alvarez suit was filed, Huizar dubbed the allegations “absolute nonsense” that includes “outlandish accusations that are completely false.”

“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.

The complaint says Alvarez began working for Huizar as an intern in 2010 while she was still in high school, then came back to work for Huizar after high school, rising through the ranks until being promoted to his executive assistant and scheduler in 2015.

Huizar has served on the City Council since 2005.

BILL HETHERMAN

City News Service