Thursday, October 13, 2011
Billboard Company Charges City Attorney’s Office With Conflict of Interest, Seeks Recusal
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A Los Alamitos-based outdoor advertising installation company has filed a motion seeking to disqualify the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office from pursuing a criminal action against it based on allegations that prosecutors have used the charges and the threat of jail to obtain an advantage in a corresponding civil suit.
Anthony V. Salerno and Stephen T. Morgan of Anthony V. Salerno & Associates, counsel for MD Graphic Installers Inc. and Mark Denny, said yesterday that the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office filed civil and criminal actions against their clients after various landowners whose buildings had displayed graphics installed by MD and Denny sued the city in federal district court, asserting that they had a constitutional right to display advertising on their property.
Salerno and Morgan told the MetNews that the city attorney was using the civil and criminal actions to gain leverage in the federal case, and conditioning the prosecution of the criminal case on the payment of a substantial settlement of the civil case.
The prosecutors involved “are not giving us a number” in terms of an acceptable settlement offer, Salerno said, but “they wanted us to give one to them.” He added that an offer for “total disgorgement” of all advertising proceeds by a property owner facing a similar civil action was rejected.
Salerno insisted that no lawyer should be allowed “to extort monetary settlements,” and “for the chief prosecutor in the city to do it is outrageous.” Morgan remarked that “there’s little question that this was going on.”
In the motion, filed Tuesday, Morgan asserted that “a conflict of interest exists inside the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office that has resulted and will continue to result in [his clients] receiving an unfair trial.”
He claimed that the office’s Special and Criminal Litigation Branch has been defending the city in federal district court, and that this same group of prosecutors has filed civil and criminal actions against MD and Denny for illegal outdoor advertising “without erecting meaningful internal firewalls.”
Morgan argued that “[m]ultiple settlement discussions were held where the following parties were present in a single room: the head of the Criminal and Special Litigation Branch, Jeffery Isaacs, Deputy City Attorneys who were involved in the federal litigation, Deputy City Attorneys handling the criminal cases, Deputy City Attorneys handling the civil cases, attorneys representing defendants regarding the criminal cases, and attorneys representing the defendants regarding the civil cases.”
In these meetings, Morgan reported that Isaacs said “jail time and criminal convictions could be avoided for the defendants in their individual capacity IF an agreement could be reached on the civil side regarding a dollar amount.”
Morgan contended such “treatment has been unfair and amounts to extortion.”
A spokesperson for the city attorney said yesterday that “our office believes this is a specious motion and we anticipate filing a response soon.”
Morgan has requested a hearing on the motion next Thursday afternoon before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Georgina Rizk.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company