Wednesday, August 22, 2012
C.A. Says Bernard Parks Liable for Failed Campaign’s Robocalls
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard Parks is personally liable for automated telephone calls used to promote his failed campaign for county supervisor four years ago, the Court of Appeal for this district has ruled.
Div. Four Monday affirmed a judgment for more than $50,000 against Parks and his campaign committee for money owed to Call Center Services, Inc.
Call Center sued Parks in November 2009, alleging that his campaign paid only $5,000 of the $55,000 the company was owed for the robocalls. The plaintiff asked for the balance, plus interest, against both the campaign committee and Parks.
In support of the company’s summary judgment motion, its president, Kris Schwenkmeyer, said campaign aide Andrew Westall engaged Call Center’s services and supplied the recorded message by Parks to be used. Call Center also submitted a declaration by the field director of the campaign, Herb Wesson III—son of the current Los Angeles City Council president—verifying that Parks authorized the contract.
Parks responded that he never authorized the expenditure, and that neither Westall nor Wesson had the authority to commit the campaign to an obligation of that size. Call Center replied that the candidate himself had declared under penalty of perjury, in an August 2009 campaign contribution filing, that the campaign owed the principal amount sought by the plaintiff.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John Kronstadt granted Call Center summary judgment against the campaign committee, reserving for trial the issue of whether Parks was personally liable. Following a bench trial, the judge said he was, saying he found Wesson’s and Westall’s testimony particularly credible.
Wesson testified that he had ongoing discussions about the cost and effectiveness of the calls with Parks, as well as with Bernard Parks Jr., who is his father’s chief of staff, and campaign treasurer Mary Ellen Padilla. Wesson said he spoke to Parks Sr. in June 2008 about the fact that Call Center had not been paid, and Parks said the payment would be made after the primary.
Westall said he had urged Parks to use robocalling because the campaign’s in-house phone bankers lacked effective communication skills. He said he did not mention Call Center to the councilman by name, but did tell him an outside vendor was providing the services, and updated Parks weekly during the campaign as to how the robocalls were going.
He further testified that he obtained several audio files of messages from celebrities and politicians, at Parks’ urging, and used those for robocalls, in addition to Parks’ own message.
Parks denied most of what Wesson and Westall testified to. He acknowledged urging the obtaining of audio files, but said those were to be used for possible radio ads, not phone calls, and said the $5,000 that was paid covered the only calls that he authorized.
He also said that by the time he had signed the campaign filing, listing the outstanding billing, he had already decided not to pay it because the calls were unauthorized, ineffective, and overpriced.
In his statement of decision, the judge said Parks was liable because the calls were made “after substantial discussion” between Parks and others in the campaign; were intended to, and did, benefit the candidate; were appropriately priced; and were made with full knowledge of the contract terms by Parks.
He awarded the full sum of nearly $50,000, plus over $10,000 in interest.
Parks later moved for a new trial, based on a declaration by an employee of Westall, Gabriel Grunspan, who said he overheard a conversation in which Wesson and Westall talked about the “problem” of having engaged Call Center without the councilman’s authorization. “Dude, this is going to go down bad!,” Wesson told Westall, according to Greenspun.
The motion was assigned to Judge Barbara Scheper, after Kronstadt left the court last year to take a seat on the federal bench. Scheper denied the motion.
Justice Nora Manella, in an unpublished opinion Monday, said there was no showing of reversible error.
The trial judge’s findings, she said, are entitled to deference, and there was substantial evidence that Parks approved of the expenditure.
Manella also concluded that Scheper’s denial of the motion for new trial was not an abuse of discretion. Grunspan’s testimony, she said, was of questionable veracity, as his version of events—that Westall claimed to have acted directly on Parks’ authority—was inconsistent with Wesson’s trial testimony that Parks gave Wesson the go-ahead and that Wesson then communicated with Westall and Schwenkmeyer.
Grunspan, the justice said, appeared to be attempting “to contradict a version of events reported online, but not in fact testified to at trial.” Besides, even if Grunspan’s declaration was treated as credible, it would not have required a new trial given the strength of the direct and circumstantial evidence favoring the plaintiff, Manella wrote.
The case is Call Center Services, Inc. v. Bernard Parks for Supervisor, B235725.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company