Friday, October 21, 2011
Judge Continues Hearing on Conflict of Interest Charge Against Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge yesterday continued a hearing on a motion to disqualify the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office from prosecuting several billboard companies on misdemeanor charges.
Judge Georgina Torres Rizk said the motion could not be heard because the District Attorney’s Office, which would have to pick up the case if city prosecutors were recused, had not been served with notice. She set a new hearing date of Nov. 14, but said that date might be moved, because two of the defense attorneys expect to be in trial in another county.
The motion was brought by Anthony V. Salerno and Stephen T. Morgan of Anthony V. Salerno & Associates on behalf of MD Graphic Installers Inc., a Los Alamitos-based outdoor advertising installation company. Several other defendants joined in the motion yesterday.
The moving defendants allege that prosecutors have used the charges and the threat of jail to obtain an advantage in a corresponding civil suit.
Defense attorneys told the MetNews that the City Attorney’s Office filed civil and criminal actions against their clients after various landowners whose buildings had displayed graphics installed by their clients sued the city in federal district court, asserting that they had a constitutional right to display advertising on their property.
Salerno and Morgan said the city attorney was using the civil and criminal actions to gain leverage in the federal case, and conditioning a favorable resolution 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.
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 owner Mark Denny for illegal outdoor advertising “without erecting meaningful internal firewalls.”
The defense specifically claims that City Attorney’s Office lawyers involved in the civil and criminal cases against their clients, as well as those involved in the defense of the federal litigation, have all met with defense counsel at the same time to discuss a resolution of the matters.
The city recently filed a response, contending that the motion is without foundation.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company