The former local manager for public relations firm Fleishman-Hillard denied in court papers Friday that he instructed workers to pad billings to the city of Los Angeles, as alleged in a lawsuit filed by the city attorney.
Doug Dowie asked a Superior Court judge to dismiss the lawsuit against him, saying it “is clearly frivolous, clearly vexatious, and is brought solely for the purposes of harassment.”
The court filing comes just days before City Controller Laura Chick is slated to release an audit of the firm’s work for the city. Sources who have seen a draft said the audit might question more than $1 million in billings.
The city sued the public relations firm in July, alleging that it defrauded the harbor, airports, and water and power departments under contracts that have paid the firm more than $20 million over the last seven years.
In September, the city expanded the lawsuit, singling out Dowie, the former general manager of Fleishman-Hillard’s Los Angeles office. Officials allege that he told employees “to bill for work that was not completed or undertaken.”
Dowie is on indefinite paid leave from Fleishman pending an internal inquiry. He declined to comment on the case or his written answer filed Friday.
“Mr. Dowie did not authorize, ratify, encourage, participate in, or aid and abet any alleged misconduct,” the court filing says.
The document argues that he should not be required to pay restitution or penalties sought by the city, saying, “He acted properly, ethically, professionally and in good faith, and he fully complied with all rules.”
Dowie is also seeking through discovery motions the names of any former or current employee who has alleged overbilling.
The city attorney’s office Friday disputed Dowie’s claims.
“If Mr. Dowie truly believes, as he contends in his answers, that overbilling Los Angeles ratepayers is frivolous, then that is where we differ,” said Katie Buckland, spokeswoman for City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo. “This is the approach one would expect from someone who bills himself as a spin doctor -- charge taxpayers for work you did not perform and when they come to collect, blame the government for harassment.”
Fleishman-Hillard, which is paying for Dowie’s defense, has not filed its own answer to the lawsuit and has not finished its investigation into the allegations, said Richard Kline, who replaced Dowie as head of the firm’s Los Angeles office.
Asked if the probe had found any wrongdoing by Dowie, Kline said, “There have been no conclusions reached yet.”
The Times reported July 15 that former Fleishman-Hillard employees said workers routinely inflated monthly billings to the city Department of Water and Power, and were encouraged -- sometimes even directed -- to submit falsified time sheets.
The firm has ended its work for the three city departments.
Thomas Holliday, an attorney for Dowie, said his client had become a “political football” at City Hall. Dowie was once a close advisor to Mayor James K. Hahn, and the contract has been heavily criticized by Hahn’s political foes, including Chick.
The controller declined to comment on Dowie’s filing or to discuss the findings of her audit.
“This is concerning a legal matter, which is in the hands of the city attorney,” Chick said. “As to my audit of Fleishman-Hillard’s billing practices, my report will be released shortly.”