By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The Monforton memo states that the D.A.’s Office rightly questioned the waiver by Cudahy council members of their right to separate legal representation, but that the office never challenged the city’s waiver of that right. State law requires that both parties to a potential conflict of interest knowingly waive their rights to separate counsel. After Los Angeles Judge David Wesley ruled against disqualifying Sheppard Mullin, the firm was free to represent the city, its employees and the council members, whose legal fees were paid with taxpayer money. In his memo, Monforton states that Sheppard Mullin deceived Wesley with “fraudulent misrepresentations.”
Leonard, who worked on the case, sees it differently, though he, too, questions the credibility of witnesses who testified that city officials knew what they were doing when they agreed to joint representation in a grand-jury investigation of Perez and the council members who appointed him city manager. “I have high regard for [Monforton] but I don’t know if there was fraud there. I do believe there was a conflict of interest. I have problems with the factual finding by the judge. I believe our witness was telling the truth and should be believed — as opposed to Sheppard Mullin’s witnesses. The city lost a huge amount of money. Sheppard Mullin ate into [the city’s] reserves.”
Monforton, who would not elaborate on his memo, points to documents he claims will show that “Sheppard Mullin attorneys knew they lacked the city’s consent [to joint representation] even as they declared the exact opposite under penalty of perjury.” He states that the council members had no right to legal representation at taxpayer expense, and that the retainer agreement, executed by Philibosian, violates state law. “Philibosian and the other Sheppard Mullin attorneys who used the retainer to generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal fees, therefore, are also potentially culpable as either conspirators or aiders and abettors.”
TIES BETWEEN COOLEY and Philibosian become more troubling considering how many corruption cases Philibosian’s firm handles. In 2003, when investigator and activist Erin Brockovich and attorney Ed Masry sued Venoco and two dozen other oil companies for alleged hazardous emissions at Beverly Hills High School, the D.A.’s Office investigated for possible environmental crimes. Philibosian handled the matter, which resulted in no charges. In 2002, Sheppard Mullin partner Tom Brown was forced to stop representing the Entertainment Industry Development Corporation and its president, Cody Cluff, who later was convicted of embezzling public funds, when Brown disputed a decision by city and county officials to place Cluff on leave pending the investigation. What irked the officials was Brown’s placing Cluff’s interests above the publicly funded film agency’s.
In 2003, Deputy District Attorney Richard Sullivan was punished with a demeaning assignment for going public with concerns over the investigation of allegations of environmental crimes and perjury by the Newhall Land & Ranch Co. According to Monforton’s memo, Philibosian represented Newhall in the case. But when prosecutors, who suspected the company of lying about the presence of the endangered spineflower, sought a search warrant to obtain business records, Cooley blocked the effort and branded them “reckless and unethical,” according to the memo. No perjury investigation ever occurred. The company later paid a small fine.
A former veteran prosecutor in the D.A.’s Office, Sterling Norris, now the head of judicial monitoring in California for Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog, says Cooley and Philibosian have crossed the line. “Someone should declare a conflict,” says Norris, whose group is weighing a legal action on behalf of the city of Cudahy. “Cooley and Philibosian have been friends for years .?.?. These guys are all in bed together. Cudahy officials were buying juice. They were buying Philibosian — with taxpayer money.”