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Rocky Road

A messy lawsuit filed by a former employee against City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo and his top deputies puts a stain on the unruffled image he projects of an efficient and ethical public law office that strives for the quality of a private firm. Delgadillo’s office has shelled out nearly a million dollars to the firm of Baker & Hostetler, defending itself against a retaliation lawsuit filed by former Assistant City Attorney Lynn Magnandonovan, who was fired after clashing with colleagues and judges while attempting to prosecute a multiple sex offender. Due to the involvement of several judges, the entire Los Angeles Superior Court has recused itself. The case of Magnandonovan vs. Delgadillo portrays Delgadillo as using his legal clout with elected officials to insulate himself from scrutiny. Magnandonovan charges that Delgadillo allowed top deputies to rig an investigation of an allegedly hostile work environment, then violated city laws when his chief deputy advised the City Council against ordering an independent investigation. Meanwhile, the outcome of a child molestation trial about to begin in Van Nuys involving a convicted sex offender — who Delgadillo’s office and a Los Angeles Superior Court judge allowed to go free despite Magnandonovan’s efforts to prosecute him — could undermine the city’s position that Magnandonovan deserved to be fired. Back in 1999, Magnandonovan was a seasoned prosecutor in the Special Enforcement Unit when, according to court documents, she angered colleague Deborah Sanchez by pointing out that Sanchez had misfiled a case that the U.S. Attorney’s Office should have handled. Magnandonovan says she received a voice mail from Sanchez vowing to “go to the ends of the earth” to refute her, and that Assistant City Attorney Cecil Marr ignored a complaint that she felt threatened by Sanchez. Marr also allegedly ignored a separate complaint by Magnandonovan that her supervisor, whom she characterizes in court documents as a friend of Marr’s, had appeared in court under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Marr now heads the Labor Relations Branch of the City Attorney’s Office at the Department of Water and Power. Sanchez heads the office’s Special Enforcement Unit. In 2001, the City Attorney’s Office settled Magnandonovan’s claim of harassment and retaliation against Sanchez, Marr and Assistant City Attorney Charles Goldberg. In exchange for dropping her claim, Magnandonovan was named supervising attorney in the fledgling Hate Crimes Unit. However, she had already alienated the wrong people. After Delgadillo was elected city attorney in the middle of 2001, Magnandonovan alleges she was marginalized and demoted by his top deputies for filing the harassment claim. Her title of supervisor was rendered meaningless, she alleges. Her 11-year career was placed in jeopardy. Her troubles continued when she angered the court by challenging the way it handled the sentencing of a man brought up on multiple sex offense charges. In 1999, then-L.A. Superior Court commissioner Joseph Biderman accepted a guilty plea from a man named David Newman on several counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Newman had been charged with multiple counts of molestation and providing lewd material to minors. He later violated probation by visiting minors without adult supervision. Court records show that Biderman had sentenced Newman to 545 days in jail, but failed to specify in his order that time on three separate counts was to run consecutively. Biderman cut the sentence to 365 days, after Newman’s lawyer challenged the flawed order and a colleague of Magnandonovan’s accepted the compromise without her knowledge. Convinced that her colleague and Biderman had made a mistake, Magnandonovan challenged the decision. After a heated dialogue on September 24, 2001, Judge James Brandlin, Biderman’s supervisor, told Magnandonovan her attempt to reinstate the original sentence “smacks of elitism,” according to a transcript of the hearing. Further convinced that Newman posed a danger to minors, Magnandonovan hauled him into court on another alleged probation violation on November 27, 2001. Biderman presided. Despite being informed that Magnandonovan was running late but on her way to court, Biderman, according to a court transcript, allowed Newman, whom he had already ordered to register as a sex offender, to go free. In a handwritten note to Biderman dated March 23, 2001, Newman had confessed to “inappropriate behavior” and to having “problems needing extensive therapy.” He promised to “never again be alone in the presence of anyone under 18.” The State Attorney General’s Office has no record of Newman ever registering as a sex offender. “Shame on him,” Magnandonovan said to a court clerk in 2001, when informed of Biderman’s decision to set Newman free. Newman was arrested last June and charged with oral copulation and sodomy with a person under 16 and lewd acts against a child under 14. Magnandonovan’s problems with the court were just getting started. A friend of Biderman’s, Judge Stephanie Sautner, called Magnandonovan’s supervisor to complain of unprofessional conduct. In statements filed with the court, Biderman, who is gay, as is Sautner, says he took Magnandonovan’s scolding as an implication that because he is gay he is soft on sex offenders. On December 20, 2001, Magnandonovan was placed on administrative leave, pending an investigation. Sanchez, her alleged nemesis, took over the Hate Crimes Unit. Magnandonovan filed another claim of retaliation in May 2002 against Delgadillo and then-chief deputy Terree Bowers. Magnandonovan received notice on July 26, 2002, that she was being fired, but not before Assistant City Attorney Zna Houston interviewed a number of influential judges and court staff in connection with an “internal investigation” of Magnandonovan, who was never questioned or formally informed of the charges against her, according to statements she has filed with the court. The ire of judges Sautner, Biderman and Brandlin, and the decision by a top Delgadillo deputy to interview judges in the process of firing Magnandonovan, forced the entire Los Angeles Superior Court to recuse itself in the lawsuit she has filed against Delgadillo. The lawsuit has been transferred to Orange County. The ordeal has dragged the city personnel department into the picture along with the City Council. On notice of the lawsuit, personnel manager Margaret Whelan wrote to City Council President Alex Padilla on August 26, 2002, and advised him of a city code requirement that a special committee review lawsuits filed against elected officials to determine if an independent investigation should take place. Padilla wrote back saying he was convening such a committee. Oddly, his written response is dated August 15, 2002, but is stamped “received” by Whelan’s office on November 2002. On January 31, 2003, Padilla rescinded his August 15 letter, based on a legal opinion by Delgadillo’s chief deputy at the time, Bowers. An Orange County judge will decide next month whether Bowers advised Padilla not to follow the law. Meanwhile, Bowers has taken a job at the law firm of Howery & Simon. Assistant City Attorney Pete Echeverria, who authored the legal opinion for Bowers, has replaced Bowers. Lawrence Gartner of Baker & Hostetler has asked a judge to dismiss Magnandonovan’s case. Reactions to Magnandonovan are mixed. Gerald Klausner, who defended David Newman on the molestation charges, says she has trouble dealing with people. “She attacked me and mistreated judges and her peers and aired her office’s dirty laundry,” Klausner tells the Weekly. “Whatever happened [in the Newman case] was her fault.” Newman will go to trial on July 13 on four felony counts of molestation in Van Nuys. Leonard Levine, a former attorney for Newman, says Magnandonovan was very zealous in her pursuit of justice, although he often disagreed with her. Sources familiar with Magnandonovan’s lawsuit say that Los Angeles judges have tempered their assessment of her in depositions. Former Assistant City Attorney Kristine Aronsohn, who was placed on administrative leave and later resigned after she accused an LAPD officer of committing perjury, says she recalls Magnandonovan as a dedicated public lawyer. “Lynn valued the responsibility of representing the city.”


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