Ex-L.A. Counsel Says|He Was Told to Break Law

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – Los Angeles County’s former top attorney has filed a second lawsuit over his 2015 ouster, accusing the Board of Supervisors of unlawful misconduct and claiming that one of its five members wanted him fired because of their frequent clashes.
     Mark Saladino sued the board in Superior Court in May under California’s Ralph Brown Act, an open meetings law.
     Saladino claims he was summoned to a secret meeting last year where Supervisor Michael Antonovich, a Republican, and Supervisor Hilda Solis, a Democrat, insisted he write a news release announcing his resignation from a job he wanted to keep.
     He said he was later offer two choices: Move to a job in the treasury and tax office, where he had previously worked, or take administrative leave until another position was available.
     The decision to approve his transfer and oust him were both actions that violate the open meetings law, he said.
     Saladino said he filed his May lawsuit for “himself and on behalf of the public.”
     In the new complaint, filed July 15, Saladino alleges wrongful termination, intentional infliction of emotional distress, Labor Code violations and three other counts.
     He singles out Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, a Democrat whom he says frequently tried to avoid state law and bend the prosecutor to his will.
     Saladino says Ridley-Thomas was the only member of the five-person board to oppose his appointment in September 2014. He says his conflicts with Ridley-Thomas date back to the prosecutor’s prior stint in the treasury department, when Ridley-Thomas pressured him, unsuccessfully, to accept services from a political supporter who Saladino felt was not qualified for the job.
     “Mr. Saladino alleges that Supervisor Ridley-Thomas never forgot this transaction and harbored ill will towards Mr. Saladino from that day forward, including when he was appointed as county counsel in October of 2014,” the lawsuit states.
     Saladino says the District Attorney’s Office had investigated Ridley-Thomas for a potential “impropriety” related to an expensive “conversion” of the supervisor’s garage into a home office.
     A month after he became the top prosecutor, Saladino said, the district attorney decided against pressing charges but “cast doubt on the veracity of certain witnesses who gave testimony that was favorable to Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.”
     Saladino says he angered the supervisor when he declined to take unspecified “actions” that would have violated the law.
     Saladino’s attorney Kenneth Spencer told the Los Angeles Times this week that he could not comment on those actions and cited attorney-client privilege between his client and the county.
     Saladino says he also butted heads with Ridley-Thomas when the supervisor recommended creation of a Jails Special Counsel to address new Department of Justice guidelines on health and mental health services.
     He said such a special counsel would have circumvented the influence of the Sheriff’s Department in negotiating a consent decree with the Justice Department. That would have allowed the board to avoid the “statutory duties” of the county counsel, Saladino says.
     Ridley-Thomas justified the creation of a group of attorneys within the Executive Office of the Board of Supervisors because he said the county counsel lacked the “expertise” to address the decline of health and mental health services in the jails.
     “The purported justification of Supervisor Ridley-Thomas was untrue and lacked any basis in reality,” the complaint states. “Mr. Saladino and many of his colleagues believed that the true motivation behind Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’s proposal was to undermine the Office of County Counsel by hiring attorneys that would have no responsibility or duty of loyalty to the sheriff and would only serve the interests of board members.”
     Saladino says he later angered Ridley-Thomas when he insisted on following statutory guidelines regarding the Sheriff’s Department’s investigatory functions and the running of the department’s Medical Services Bureau.
     He also claims that Ridley-Thomas sought political retribution because Saladino had support from former Los Angeles County CEO William Fujioka, with whom Ridley-Thomas had feuded.
     Ridley-Thomas’ spokeswoman Christina Villacorte said she could not comment on pending litigation and referred Courthouse News to the county’s attorney Louis “Skip” Miller, who was not immediately available for comment by phone Wednesday.
     Saladino also claims that Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Solis pressured him to violate his “professional responsibilities to the sheriff” after a vote on the presence of immigration agents in the jails did not go their way.
     He says he “stoked the anger” of Supervisors Antonovich and Don Knabe when he refused to present a “biased” legal opinion as they fought a lawsuit filed by the ACLU over the board’s decision to add a cross to the county seal.
     Saladino says the board was hostile to the Brown Act and board members “frequently tried to silence speakers whom they found to be offensive, and on some occasions they attempted to limit public comment on particular agenda items.”
     He also believes the board also held meetings during trips to Washington, D.C. that violated the Brown Act.
     He seeks unpaid wages, lost wages and work benefits, compensatory damages for emotional distress, and punitive damages against individual members of the board.
     He is represented by Kenneth Spencer and Robert Baker with Baker, Keener & Nahra.

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