Monday, October 16, 2017
County Squanders Funds in Defense of Lawyer Who Acts Like a Brat
By ROGER M. GRACE
It’s bad enough that the County of Los Angeles has been financing the defense, in State Bar proceedings, of Delia Metoyer, a self-indulgent deputy public defender who abandoned a client as trial was about to commence because a judge hurt her feelings by denying her belated time-off request for the following morning. The lawyer, with permission, went to the judge’s bathroom to cry, didn’t return, and later that morning, after her office replaced her in the case, snubbed a judicial order to come back to the courtroom (in all probability to incur a mere finger-wagging).
It is now known that the county reimbursed Metoyer for the $1,500 sanction that was imposed on her, at a subsequent hearing, by the judge in the case, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Eleanor J. Hunter. The judge’s unmistakable purpose was to penalize a lawyer who misbehaved, not the government, not the taxpayers who fund the government’s operations.
That reimbursement is surely no different from the county paying an employee’s speeding ticket or a fine for littering.
Information as to the reimbursement comes in an opinion of the Hearing Department of the State Bar Court, filed Sept. 15. State Bar Court Judge Donald F. Miles recommended in the opinion that that the Supreme Court impose a one-year suspension from practice on Metoyer, stay it pending her completion of probation, and that she be actually suspended for 30 days.
And if that sticks, will the county beneficently grant her a 30-day paid sabbatical? That would be no more foolish and irresponsible than the county’s actions, to date.
Metoyer went into a tizzy because Hunter, on Jan. 15, 2015, in an in-chambers pre-trial confab, indicated she would not release her from the obligation to be in court the next morning based merely on her advisement that she had previously made a medical appointment for that day. The deputy public defender had announced “ready”; she hadn’t previously mentioned the appointment; there was no emergency.
Hunter would have been a patsy if she had done other than to tell Metoyer to postpone the appointment and be in court.
Following a highly emotional call to her office by cellphone, the lawyer sneaked out (through another courtroom), with the judge, lawyers, witnesses, defendant, and court personnel awaiting her return, and prospective jurors sitting idly in the hallway.
This immature lawyer has been financed and mollycoddled by the county, though her behavior was akin to that of a brat in need of a spanking.
A request was made to the Board of Supervisors in early February by then-Acting Public Defender Kelly Emling—she’s since been replaced by an interim PD—that up to $15,000 be spent on the defense of Metoyer in State Bar proceedings. Her request was the subject of criticism by this column on Feb. 10. Emling made her request in a letter that provided an incomplete, and through its omissions deceptive, picture of the circumstances of the proceedings against Metoyer.
Emling concealed facts set forth in a July 27, 2016 Court of Appeal opinion by Presiding Justice Norman Epstein of this district’s Div. Four in upholding the sanction imposed by Hunter. The acting PD failed to disclose that one of the three charges against Metoyer had no semblance of a connection to her role as a county employee: she failed to abide by the requirement of reporting the sanction to the State Bar.
The other charges are abandoning a client and disobeying a valid court order.
To the discredit of the board, it approved Emling’s request, without discussion; it was on the consent agenda. That approval was in defiance of Government Code §995.6 which limits a discretionary county-subsidized defense of an employee in an administrative proceeding to circumstances where the employee “acted…in the apparent interests of the public entity.”
At no time did Metoyer, even arguably, engage in an act in pursuit of the interests of the county. Rather, she catered—childishly, unreasonably, and unprofessionally—to self-interests. Yet, the county is absorbing a portion if not all of the costs of her defense before the State Bar Court by lawyer James Ham.
The fact that has now emerged that the county paid the sanction imposed on Metoyer gives rise to an inquiry as to whether, as might well be supposed to be the case, the county subsidized the appeal of that sanction to the Court of Appeal.
Emling acknowledged, in seeking a prospective underwriting of future legal costs in backing Metoyer, that unspecified past sums had been expended before it was realized that board consent was required.
What are the total costs, to date, of defending Metoyer against consequences of her misbehavior?
These questions are suited for a probing by the county’s civil grand jury.
This is also the stuff that taxpayer actions are made of.
We are not here confronted by an instance of a deputy county counsel being sanctioned for arguing too vociferously in seeking to vindicate the county’s position, or a deputy district attorney pressing the prosecution’s view of a case too hard, or a deputy public defender being overly fervent in seeking an acquittal. The conduct in question has nothing to do with an effort to advance the interests of the county or the interests of the client of a county law office.
It has to do with antics of a self-absorbed 44-year-old cry-baby who embarrassed her office, and abandoned professional ethics, in essence, because Mommy said “No.”
By the way, Miles recommended that Metoyer be ordered to pay costs to the State Bar, pursuant to Business and Professions Code §6086.10, which provides:
“In any order imposing discipline, or accepting a resignation with a disciplinary matter pending, the Supreme Court shall include a direction that the member shall pay costs.”
Costs include those incurred in connection with “investigation, hearing, and review.”
Assuming the Supreme Court accedes to the State Bar’s request for discipline of Metoyer, will the county be reimbursing her for her payment of costs?
Oh, and how about recompense for time she lost at work because of the State Bar proceedings?
Considering all she’s been through, would a bonus be in order?
One might well suspect Metoyer of duplicity.
After Metoyer made a fuss, in chambers, about being denied leave the next day—accusing the judge of being “cruel” and showing no regard for her health needs—Hunter said she wanted to put the matter on the record. Metoyer, in a frenzied state, asked that she first be allowed to use the chambers bathroom; the judge, rather graciously, assented.
Epstein’s opinion quotes Metoyer as saying, in her declaration in response to Hunter’s subsequent order to show cause re sanctions:
“I believed Judge Hunter could see that I was crying. I believed she was allowing me time to clean up and compose myself. I was unaware of any time limits on my efforts to compose myself. I was not ordered to return to court within a specific period of time after being permitted to use the restroom to compose myself.”
“Appellant’s claim about ‘time limits’ fails to explain, or even acknowledge her conduct. She did not simply take a long time in the restroom; she left the restroom, failed to return to the courtroom, and failed to notify the court that she was doing so. She had the ability to make a telephone call from the restroom, as shown by her call to her supervisor. She could have called the court and explained her inability to return at that time, but did not do so.”
In that declaration, Metoyer said that in seeking time off to have an MRI taken, in light of a back injury the week before—incurred when she reached for keys—she “stressed the severity of my injury and that my health was of utmost concern, not only for my children but for my client.”
The declaration also says:
“All of this was explained in a clear, concise manner with no tears. In response, I felt my concerns were mocked by Judge Hunter when she stated, ‘Ms. Metoyer are you playing the kid card?’ This was hurtful and scary. I was frightened that Judge Hunter was going to prevent me from attending my medical appointment; thereby, compromising my health and my ability to work. It was this fear, an inability to support myself or my family that moved me to tears.”
Would her health have indeed been jeopardized had she postponed the MRI?
Miles’s opinion points to evidence that on Jan. 15, 2015, Metoyer told the deputy in charge of the PD’s office in Compton that her back was better, she was wearing high heels, and was walking normally. Moreover, he related that at the disciplinary hearing, she testified she was not in pain that day.
If Metoyer truly felt there was some urgent need for an MRI (which is doubtful) she had but to look on the Internet for an imaging facility that stays open late. It is altogether possible she could have had the MRI performed on or earlier than Jan. 15.
She worked in the Compton Courthouse. The MRI Center at the Martin Luther King Jr. Multi-Service Ambulatory Care Center is seven minutes from the courthouse and is open until 7 p.m.
There’s a facility in downtown Los Angeles that’s open until 10 p.m. and one in Santa Monica that closes at 9 p.m.
Metoyer’s feigned helplessness reminds me of the cartoon depiction of a damsel in distress at the start and end of episodes on the long-running PBS series, Mystery! (now merged into Masterpiece Theater) who sighs, bemoaning her fate. Alas, her ankles are tied! Well, yes, but her hands are free. Rather than untying the knots, she relishes the role of a victim.
The self-pitying Metoyer is not a victim. She’s a victimizer. She’s victimized the county which, in submitting to her cries for help has, in turn, victimized taxpayers.
The sum at stake is surely not huge. Yet, the dereliction of the county in becoming the benefactor of Metoyer is, I submit, high on the scale of governmental folly.
Copyright 2017, Metropolitan News Company