Plaintiff in DWP Overbilling Suit Loses Follow-Up Battle
Ninth Circuit Says Any Cover-Up by City of Los Angeles of Attorney Paul Paradis’s Conflict of Interest in Representing Parties With Competing Interests Did Not Prevent a Timely Malpractice Suit Against Him
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a summary judgment in favor of the City of Los Angeles in a suit for damages brought by a man alleging that the city’s cover-up of the fact that then-New York lawyer Paul O. Paradis, representing him as named plaintiff in a class action over the Department of Water & Power’s massive overbilling of customers in 2013, was also working at the time for the city.
Affirmance came in a memorandum opinion by a three-judge panel, filed Tuesday, saying that any cover-up did not preclude an action against Paradis because once plaintiff Antwon Jones learned of the perfidy, there was still time to sue before the relevant statute of limitations expired.
Paradis—now disbarred and awaiting sentencing on a federal bribery count in connection with the DWP debacle—in 2015 represented the city, along with Beverly Hills practitioner Paul Kiesel, in pressing claims against the consulting firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers, maintaining that it was responsible for the faulty billing system that resulted in exorbitant amounts being exacted from rate-payers. It was liable, the city contended, for any refunds that the city might be compelled to make.
Antwon Jones was the named plaintiff in the April 1, 2015 class action that resulted in a settlement six weeks later, approved by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elihu M. Berle on June 17, 2017. Under the settlement, a total of about $67 million was remitted to overcharged DWP customers.
Jones sued the city and others on Dec. 21, 2020, claiming that because the city had covered-up Paradis’s conflict of interest, an action by him against Paradis became time-barred.
Allegations of Complaint
He said in his July 9, 2021 first amended complaint:
“Paradis and the City had used Mr. Jones as an unwitting pawn in procuring the fraudulent and collusive settlement in the Jones v. City case, and in a related scheme by which Paradis enriched himself by tens of millions of dollars in City funds.”
The pleading adds (with paragraph numbering omitted):
“As a result of the cover up, the City has deprived Mr. Jones of his constitutional right to access to the courts, in particular, because of the cover up. Mr. Jones was unaware of Paradis and the City’s malfeasance until after his claims were barred by the statute of limitations and the Government Claims Act. Thus, because of the cover up, by the time Mr. Jones discovered that he had been used to procure a collusive settlement and commit a fraud on the Court, it was too late for him to exercise his right to access the courts and bring legal actions against them to recover the damages and obtain the other relief to which he would otherwise have been entitled.
“Mr. Jones now brings this action in his individual capacity against the City to recoup the damages and other monetary relief to which he was entitled and would have received but for the City’s violation of his civil rights.”
Jones’s own bill from DWP, which had traditionally swayed between $25-$30 per month, jumped to about $340 per month in 2014, due to flawed calculations.
District Court Judge Virginia A. Phillips of the Central District of California (now a senior judge) on Oct. 5, 2021, dismissed Jones’s claims against then-City Attorney Michael Feuer, former Chief Deputy James Clark, and Thomas H. Peters, former chief of civil litigation.
In June 14, 2022, Phillips granted summary judgment to the city on Jones’s civil-rights claim against it pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983, which contains no time-bar of its own, but borrows that of the forum state.
She noted that California Code of Civil Procedure §340.6(a) provides that a malpractice action against an attorney “shall be commenced within one year after the plaintiff discovers, or through the use of reasonable diligence should have discovered, the facts constituting the wrongful act or omission.” While there is an express tolling of the statute based on obliviousness of the would-be plaintiff to the lawyer’s possible foul-up, the tolling can be for no more than four years.
Phillips determined that whether the tolling ended on Feb. 13, 2019, when Jones learned of Paradis’s dual representation, as alleged by the city, or on June 27, 2019, when Jones formally terminated the attorney-client relationship, as he maintains, the one-year statute kicked in more than one year before he brought his Dec. 21, 2020 lawsuit.
Using the June date, she said:
“Jones had until June 2020, when the limitation period ended, to sue Paradis….Jones, however, decided to sit on his rights and initiate this action more than one year after its accrual date in December 2020….
“The Court also finds that the City did not cause Jones to lose his ability to sue Paradis between June 2019, the accrual date, and June 2020, when the limitation period ended….Jones fails to meet his burden of showing a material issue of fact exists as to whether the City frustrated him from initiating litigation against Paradis after June 2019.”
Ninth Circuit Opinion
Agreeing with Phillips, the Ninth Circuit’s opinion—signed by Judges Morgan Christen, Jennifer Sung, and Kim Wardlaw—says that “that the four-year limitation period” was “tolled until at least February 2019.”
Also using the June date for sake of argument, it said:
“[B]ecause the four-year limitation period did not expire before the one-year limitation period had run, Jones had until June 2020 to sue Paradis. Because Jones decided not to sue Paradis and instead waited until December 2020 to file this action against the City, the City was not responsible for Jones losing his ability to sue Paradis within the limitation period.”
The case is Jones v. City of Los Angeles, 22-55612.
Sentencing of Paradis has been delayed to Sept. 26 in light of the assistance he is lending the State Bar in connection with its investigation of 18 attorneys in connection with the DWP matter. He admits to having received a $2.175 million kickback from Ohio personal injury attorney Jack Landskroner, who was portrayed as being Jones’s lawyer, with his name appearing on the complaint Paradis drafted, and with Paradis’s own name omitted.
Landskroner received an award of attorney fees, under the settlement, of $10.3 million. No criminal charges were brought against him though he was the target of an investigation, and he died of cancer on June 19, 2021.
The State Bar Office of Chief Trial Counsel on Aug. 23 filed with the Review Department a request for summary disbarment of Peters, Feuer’s chief of civil litigation, based on his April 5, 2022 guilty plea in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California to aiding and abetting extortion in connection with a cover-up in the DWP scandal. Peters—whose wife is Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elaine Mandel—was sentenced by District Court Judge Stanley Blumenfeld Jr. to nine months of home-confinement and three years of probation, with leniency shown based on his cooperation with the State Bar.
No prosecution or State Bar charges have been brought against Kiesel, who is also cooperating in the investigation, or Feuer, who is married to Court of Appeal Justice Gail Ruderman Feuer of this district’s Court of Appeal.
The city in 2019 dropped its suit against PricewaterhouseCoopers, explaining that the action of Paradis, as well as former DWP General Manager David H. Wright, in taking the Fifth Amendment in proceedings involving the overbilling settlement, hampered its ability to proceed.
Wright was sentenced by Blumenfeld last year to 72 months in prison for accepting a 2017 bribe from Paradis in exchange for a $30 million no-bid DWP contract for his firm.
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