Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Monday, July 31, 2023


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Settlement of Matter Before Commission Need Not Be Approved by County Counsel—C.A.


By a MetNews Staff Writer


A judge erred in determining that a settlement agreement between three ousted Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies and the Sheriff’s Department was void because it had not been approved by the county counsel, the Court of Appeal for this district has found.

The accord was reached as appeals were pending before the Los Angeles County Civil Service Commission. The county then backed out of the deal.

That prompted the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (“ALADS”), a recognized employee organization, to seek a writ of mandate to compel performance.

 On Feb. 5, 2021, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff sustained demurrers to three of the causes of action, without leave to amend, based on the impermissibility of using mandate as a vehicle for compelling specific performance.

Proceedings Before Sotelo

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Sotelo on Sept. 9 of that year sustained demurrers without leave to amend to the remaining causes of action because the county counsel had not approved the settlement. He pointed to §21 of the county Charter which says, in part:

“The County Counsel…shall have exclusive charge and control of all civil actions and proceedings in which the County or any officer thereof, is concerned or is a party.”

The county argued that §21 applies because the word “proceedings” necessarily means something other than “civil actions” and includes administrative proceedings, such as those before the commissions. ALADS contended that there are “hearings” before the commission, not “proceedings.”

Sotelo ruled:

“The Court finds that the settlement agreements are void because only the Board/County Counsel could enter them.”

He explained: “Finding that ‘civil actions’ and ‘proceedings’ mean the same thing—civil matters—would make the latter superfluous. Thus, there must be a difference between ‘civil actions’ and ‘proceedings’ as used in the Charter. The context is that the Charter refers to matters before the Commission as proceedings.”

Bendix’s Opinion

The Court of Appeal sided with ALADS, reversing the judgment of dismissal. Justice Helen I. Bendix of Div. One wrote the opinion, filed Thursday and not certified for publication.

She pointed out that when the Charter went into effect on June 2, 1913, there were no commission hearings on appeals of employee discipline.

“Further, the grammatical structure of the phrase ‘civil actions and proceedings’ in section 21 indicates county counsel’s exclusive authority extends only to civil actions and civil proceedings,” she wrote. “This conclusion is supported by provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure that existed when the original charter was drafted and ratified, and by subsequent Attorney General opinions.”

Bendix added that the county defendants “fail to show that the drafters and ratifies of the original charter intended to grant county counsel exclusive charge and control of later-invented administrative appeals of discipline, or that subsequent amendments to the charter were intended to provide this exclusive authority to county counsel.”

Demurrers Properly Sustained

The justice declared that demurrers were, nonetheless, sustained because there was no indication in the complaint that the Sheriff’s Department had the authority to enter into the settlement. However, leave to amend must be granted as to all 10 causes of action so that if such authority does exist, it can be pled, Bendix said—with one proviso.

The tenth cause of action, for declaratory relief, may not be amended to reallege due process component, she specified. She said ALADS had failed to show “that procedural due process guarantees them an opportunity to settle disciplinary charges,” and even if the department does have settlement authority, “appellants still would have failed to cure these defects in their due process theory.”

The case is Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs v. County of Los Angeles, B316067.


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