Tuesday, December 15, 2015
Saladino Entered Into an Accord; His Claim Against the County Is a Sham
By ROGER M. GRACE
Whatever happened to the notion that “a deal’s a deal”?
Mark J. Saladino, 57, was county counsel. As of last summer, he no longer enjoyed the confidence of at least a majority of the Board of Supervisors. He made a deal; to avoid the disgrace of being fired, he would voluntarily resign, put out a press release announcing that fact, and, in exchange for being cooperative, would receive the post of assistant treasurer and tax collector. It would be neat, clean, no acrimony, no humiliation.
The deal was entered into on June 10. But Saladino has had second thoughts. He’s filed a claim against the county, as a precursor to suing, and is alleging damages to date of $1.5 million, and total estimated prospective damages of $1.5 million.
On the claim form, he alleges:
“The Board of Supervisors and their private counsel illegally terminated claimant from his job as County Counsel, without justification, and demanded that he immediately announce his resignation by issuing a false press release, in exchange for another county job with lesser benefits and less prestige that was not well suited to claimant’s education and career history.”
On an attachment, he elaborates:
Throughout his employment, Claimant had serious disagreements with Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas over various legal issues and his role as County Counsel. On June 9, 2015, Supervisor (“BOS”) refused to disclose the purpose of the meeting.
Present at the meeting were Claimant, Antonovich, Supervisor Solis, and private counsel Louis “Skip” Miller. Claimant was told that his job as County Counsel was being terminated immediately and he was ordered to issue a false press release the next day announcing his voluntary resignation. In exchange for issuing the false press release, Claimant was told that he would be given another county job. It was finally decided at approximately 4:30 p.m. on June 10 that Claimant would return to the Department of Treasurer and Tax Collector and assume the duties of Assistant Treasurer and Tax Collector, and Claimant signed an ‘Agreement; concerning his new position under duress at approximately 5:00 p.m. The Agreement was handwritten by Skip Miller and was typed by Claimant.
It must be stated that prior to being appointed as County Counsel, Claimant had served as the L.A. County Treasurer and Tax Collector for more than 16 years and it was humiliating for him to return to that department in a subordinate position. Claimant had performed his duties as County Counsel with the utmost degree of competence and professionalism while he served in that capacity for approximately eight months.
Damages: Lost earnings - past and future. Emotional damages, pain and suffering. Damage to Claimant’s professional reputation.
The claim is farcical. It says that the board “and their private counsel illegally terminated claimant from his job as County Counsel, without justification.” Aside from the facts that the board, as a body, took no action to terminate Saladino’s employment, and Miller hardly possessed the power to fire him, Saladino points to no facts in support of his seemingly rash allegation that his employment was ended “illegally.”
It might well have been expected that Saladino, during his three-quarters of a year as county counsel, would have familiarized himself with the County Charter and County Code. Under §33 of the County Charter, heads of departments, such as the county counsel, are in “unclassified” service. Sec. 2.07.010 of the County Code specifies that any such person “serves at the pleasure of his or her appointing authority and may be removed at any time at the discretion of the appointing authority, with or without cause.”
Had he not entered into an agreement under which he voluntarily resigned, and had he subsequently been fired by the board, and if he established that he was not fired for cause, he would have had a claim for unemployment compensation. But that’s it. Without more than he has put forth, this would have spawned no liability on the part of the county.
The fact remains that he did enter into an agreement to step down. He thus did not suffer the indignity of being booted out. He has a job. Yet, he is wailing.
A “false press release”? It is a courtesy to allow an employee to resign, as an alternative to being fired. Saladino agreed to take that course. So, the press release announcing that he was resigning was not false; his claim against the county is.
Saladino declares that he has “had serious disagreements with Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas over various legal issues and his role as County Counsel.” Ridley-Thomas cast the sole vote against hiring Saladino as county counsel and if there was continuing strife between the two once Saladino took office, what of it?
There is no apparent relevance to Saladino’s mention in the claim of discord with Ridley-Thomas. Given that Saladino, in the end, came to lack support of at least a majority of the board, and in light of Saladino’s current crackpot claim against the county, all Saladino has done is to point out that Ridley-Thomas was right, at the outset.
What is particularly troubling about Saladino’s claim is that he says he acted “under duress” in formulating an agreement, in writing, in connection with the relinquishment of his post of county counsel and assumption of a new post as assistant treasurer and tax collector.
Here is a lawyer saying that he was bullied…too weak-kneed to stand up for his legal rights (assuming he had any). If he did act “under duress” in entering into a contract, that surely stands as a confession that he lacked the wherewithal to be the chief lawyer for the County of Los Angeles.
On the other hand, if, after negotiations—with his personally typing the agreement stemming from the negotiations—he knowingly and intelligently committed himself to a resolution, and is now seeking to squirm out of the agreement, his integrity is much in question.
Another aspect is that one who obtains a benefit under a contract, then seeks to repudiate the contract, is obliged to give up the benefit. Yet, there is no mention of Saladino resigning as assistant treasurer and tax collector.
MARY, MARY, QUITE CONTRARY: The new county counsel is Mary Wickham.
She is off to a decidedly bad start, at least with respect to press relations. This newspaper, on Nov. 18, exclusively reported that Wickham had, the previous day, been hired. She had held the post for five months, on an interim basis. But our report did not include a photo of her.
On Nov. 17, we did seek a photo of Wickham from the Office of County Counsel. We were told that she was cloistered in executive session with the board, could not be reached, and that her consent would have to be obtained prior to release of her photo.
Over succeeding days, efforts to obtain a photo of her met with no success.
This was bureaucratic blarney. Her office did not profess a lack of possessing a likeness of Wickham, nor a technological inability to electronically transmit it, but declined to provide it without her personal nod.
It is to be hoped that such nonresponsiveness to reasonable requests for information will not typify her administration as county counsel.
Copyright 2015, Metropolitan News Company