Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva is defending his hiring of a private law firm in his failed attempt to reinstate a deputy fired over domestic violence allegations, despite the argument of county lawyers that the firm did not have a valid contract to be counsel for the sheriff.
In a new sworn declaration, Villanueva says he was told by the County Counsel's Office in a Feb. 28, 2019 letter that he was permitted to seek independent counsel in the case involving former Deputy Caren Carl Mandoyan.
"Although I had not been informed that the Board (of Supervisors) and County Counsel were planning on suing me and LASD, pursuant to the authorization in the Feb. 28 letter I engaged Quinn, Emanuel," Villanueva says.
The county brought the current complaint on Nov. 16 against Quinn, Emanuel, Urquhart & Sullivan LLP, asking a judge to find that the firm did not have a contract with the county for its representation of Villanueva. In a hearing set for Feb. 14, the county also is asking that a preliminary injunction staying the arbitration that began with the selection of a panel in December until the issue of whether a contract exists is decided.
The case stems from Villanueva's support for Mandoyan, which angered members of the Board of Supervisors, and the county filed a petition in March 2018 seeking to have Mandoyan's rehiring declared void. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff ruled in favor of the county in September 2020.
Villanueva maintains he objected to the County Counsel's Office continuing to advise the Board of Supervisors adversely to him and the LASD in the Mandoyan matter after the county sued, but says his protests "fell on deaf ears."
The sheriff says the county is now represented in the Mandoyan matter -- which is on appeal -- by two private law firms and that one of them, O'Melveny & Myers LLP, told the court his attempt to reinstate Mandoyan was illegal and that a subsequent settlement with Mandoyan was unauthorized and invalid.
"Those statements are untrue, unauthorized and contrary to my and LASD's clearly stated position in the Mandoyan matter," Villanueva says. "To make matters worse, I am informed and believe that O'Melveny has made these statements supposedly acting as my and LASD's counsel."
The sheriff further says he rejects the law firm's alleged claims that his hiring of Quinn, Emanuel was "illegal, invalid and unenforceable."
"As O'Melveny well knows from its adverse representation of the county against me and LASD in the Mandoyan case, these statements are not a truthful representation of our position and no counsel or me and LASD would properly ever make, or ever be authorized to make, such statements to any court or tribunal," according to the sheriff.
Quinn, Emanuel, Urquhart & Sullivan LLP served the county with an arbitration demand on Oct. 29, according to the county's current suit.
"Quinn claims that it is entitled to compensation for unpaid fees and costs that it incurred in 2019 for representing the sheriff in a matter in which it repeatedly refused to sign a valid engagement agreement with the county as required by law," the suit states. "Instead of contracting with the county, Quinn represented the sheriff for over nine months without a valid retainer agreement."
A representative for Quinn Emanuel previously issued a statement regarding the complaint.
"Quinn Emanuel was engaged by the sheriff and LASD as independent counsel pursuant to written authorization by the Board of Supervisors and County Counsel," the statement read. "Unfortunately, even though the firm's bills were reviewed and approved for payment, the county refused to honor its authorization and pay the fees and costs incurred defending the sheriff and LASD. The firm is pursuing the matter in arbitration as expressly provided in the signed engagement agreement."
However, the county alleges that Villanueva retained the law firm in March 2019 without permission.
"Because the sheriff had no authority to contract for legal services, this contract was void, unenforceable and without authority of law," the current suit states.
Quinn Emanuel represented Villanueva despite an order from then-Presiding Judge Kevin Brazile that the firm could not receive county funds without a contract, according to the county's current suit.
Quinn Emanuel left the case in January 2020 and Stanley Friedman became Villanueva's new lawyer.
Mandoyan, who worked on Villanueva's campaign and served as his personal driver, was fired in 2016 following allegations of domestic violence, stalking and harassment of a woman he dated. According to an Office of Inspector General report, the sheriff's department also found that Mandoyan lied to Internal Affairs investigators.
Villanueva repeatedly defended bringing Mandoyan back to the department, questioning the allegations against the deputy and accusing the county's Civil Service Commission of ignoring evidence that could have cleared him of wrongdoing.