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Panel finds no support for sex harassment claim against Huizar

Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar and his attorney welcomed the completion of a confidential city investigation into sexual harassment claims against him, saying through a spokesman Friday that the findings supported their assertion that the allegations are "baseless."

The investigative firm Batza & Associates produced a report saying it did not find evidence to support former Huizar aide Francine Godoy's claim that the councilman engaged in discrimination, retaliation, harassment or the creation of a hostile work environment, according to a section of the report obtained by The Times.

Huizar aides told investigators that it was in fact Godoy who created a hostile work environment by "targeting others with criticism and profanity," the confidential document said.

Godoy, who served as Huizar's deputy chief of staff until last year, declined to be interviewed for the probe. She sued the city last fall,  claiming that she faced retaliation after refusing to provide the councilman with "sexual favors." Huizar, who is married, has called the accusations "false and malicious," while also noting that he had "an occasional and consensual" affair with Godoy.

Council President Herb Wesson convened a special committee last year to look into Godoy's allegations. The panel called for an investigation and turned to Batza.

"We are very pleased that after a thorough and exhaustive review with numerous and comprehensive interviews, this distinguished panel of legal professionals has concluded that Ms. Godoy's allegations are baseless," said Robert Alaniz, a spokesman for Walsh & Associates, the firm representing Huizar in the case.

Alaniz also said Godoy's claims were "motivated by greed and a desire to destroy the council member's reputation because he would not help advance her career as she demanded."

Godoy's lawyer, Michael Eisenberg, had refused to let city investigators question Godoy, saying remarks by Wesson had shown that the process would be "fatally tainted." At a Huizar reelection fundraiser days after Godoy filed her lawsuit, Wesson called Huizar his "best friend on the council" and said he trusted him with his life.

Eisenberg said the city should not have formed any conclusions until after Godoy provided a deposition for her lawsuit. "The real verdict in this case will be in November after a jury hears about Huizar and his despicable conduct," the lawyer said.

Council members went behind closed doors Friday to discuss the case. They emerged from that meeting and voted 10 to 0 to provide a contract worth up to $200,000 to Walsh & Associates, the law firm that has been defending Huizar since August.

Councilman Bernard C. Parks said the city had no choice but to provide a legal defense for Huizar. But he also said the Batza document, which was distributed to council members, was not clear on what had happened between Huizar and his former aide. With Godoy refusing to participate in the probe, the city was unable to carry out a full investigation, said Parks, who at one time was the city's police chief.

"The thing is, there's nothing in [the report] of any substance," he added.

The Times obtained only the concluding section of the report prepared by city investigators. In those 21/2 pages, investigators said their probe was "as thorough as possible given the circumstances." They acknowledged that additional evidence unknown to investigators might exist.

Godoy had accused Huizar of denying her promotions, forcing her to transfer and pressuring her to quit. She also contended that the councilman had sabotaged her attempt to run for the Los Angeles Community College District's board of trustees. The city's review found no evidence to back any of those claims.

Investigators said Godoy "received monetary raises, multiple times, at a faster rate" than most other staffers in Huizar's office. Personnel officials have said that between 2006 and 2013, her yearly salary jumped from $47,000 to more than $132,000.

Godoy had "expressed the desire to move on" and eventually took a position at the city's Bureau of Sanitation, the document said. In addition, Huizar helped her seek a seat on the city's full-time Board of Public Works, helping to arrange a job interview with former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a political ally.

Because the city might have different interests from Huizar's in the case, City Atty. Mike Feuer cannot represent both the councilman and the city. The city pays to defend its employees, including elected officials, when they are sued over activities that "could be within the course and scope of their employment," said Rob Wilcox, spokesman for Feuer. However, the city can later seek to recoup those costs if the employee or official is ultimately found liable for actions that fall outside that category.

david.zahniser@latimes.com

emily.alpert@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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