A WRONGFUL-TERMINATION LAWSUIT filed by former city prosecutor Lynn Magnandonovan against the city attorney and his top deputies resulted in a $1.5 million jury verdict Wednesday, bringing an end to a bitter and costly legal struggle conducted by private attorneys on behalf of Rocky Delgadillo, a candidate for State Attorney General.
With legal fees of $1.45 million already charged to the city by the firm of Baker Hostetler, and the potential for up to $3.75 million in plaintiffs’ attorneys to be paid by the city pending a motion to the court, the city’s tab could easily exceed $5 million, in a case that involved a half dozen Los Angeles judges, forcing it to be heard in Orange County.
“This is an indictment of the city attorney,” said Michael King, who, along with co-counsel Samuel Wells and attorney Susan Swingle, represented Magnandonovan for more than three years. “Delgadillo’s office conducted themselves in a way not becoming of people who are supposed to enforce the law. They went back a decade to smear my client’s character yet failed to follow their own office policies. When that happens, you have to ask yourself why. They were out to get her, and at public expense.”
Delgadillo’s spokesman Jonathan Diamond replied, “We are disappointed in the verdict and are reviewing our options.”
Magnandonovan was fired in 2002 after clashing with colleagues and judges in her attempt to prosecute a multiple sex offender, who was allowed to go free in November 2001 and went on to molest again. The offender, David Newman, was recently convicted and sentenced to two years in state prison.
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Los Angeles judges Joseph Biderman, James Brandlin, Yvette Palazuelos, and appellate judge Laurie Zelon testified against Magnandonovan at her wrongful-termination trial. They had granted interviews to Deputy City Attorney Zna Houston that contributed to Magnandonovan’s firing. Delgadillo’s office moved to fire Magnandonovan on grounds that she was unfit to represent the city. Evidence at the trial showed that Magnandonovan had no record of discipline and was not granted an interview before being fired.
A key issue disallowed by Judge Michael Hayes was advice given by Delgadillo to then-City Council President Alex Padilla, to refrain from convening a special committee to investigate Magnandonovan’s claims that she was wrongly fired in retaliation for her previous claims of gender discrimination. A city ordinance requires that, when a city official is personally sued in an official capacity, a special independent committee must investigate the matter. Delgadillo and former top deputy Terree Bowers were dismissed as defendants in the lawsuit in the weeks leading up to the trial, which lasted 20 days.
The jury deliberated for a day and a half this week. King said he spoke with jurors after the verdict, telling them about the special-committee issue that the judge ruled could not be raised during the trial. “Their jaws dropped,” King said, adding that the city hired former Toyota executive Ralph Perez for $72,000, to testify that it was acceptable to fire Magnandonovan without granting her an interview first.
Magnandonovan was not available for comment. According to King, she teaches a criminal-justice class at ITT Technical Institute in the San Fernando Valley. “This has been an enormously taxing experience for her,” King said. “Teaching criminal justice is the first baby steps forward in her life.”