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Evidence of witness tampering found in Red Line subway court battle

In a long-standing court battle involving the Red Line subway, a judge has found evidence of possible witness tampering by Los Angeles transportation officials and referred it to the state attorney general for investigation.

According to an order filed Tuesday, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Carolyn B. Kuhl wrote that witness statements taken during a contempt hearing in May raised the possibility that officials reasssigned a subcontractor’s employee to prevent him from testifying.

The lawsuit against the Metropolitan Transportation Authority was brought in 1995 by Tutor-Saliba-Perini, a joint venture that helped build the 17-mile subway from Union Station to North Hollywood.

“Counsel for MTA in this contempt proceeding has repeatedly stated that the instant long-running litigation between MTA and Tutor-Saliba-Perini has been a knife fight from the beginning,” Kuhl wrote in her decision. “Unfortunately, this court agrees with that characterization. But however hard fought litigation becomes, an agency of the government has an obligation (just as all officers of the court have an obligation) to pursue the contest with integrity.”

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Kuhl stated that there might be violations of criminal statutes prohibiting anyone from attempting to prevent or dissuade a witness from attending or testifying in a trial.

The judge told lawyers for Tutor and the MTA to deliver all pleadings, depositions, reporters’ transcripts, exhibits and documents related to the contempt proceedings to her courtroom by June 30 so they can be forwarded to the attorney general.

MTA officials said in a prepared statement that they agreed with the judge’s order and that the transit agency had suggested earlier in the case that the contempt matter be sent to the attorney general.

“We respectfully disagree with some of the inferences and conclusions drawn by the court,” authority officials said. “The MTA will provide the attorney general’s office with all documents necessary for its independent inquiry, and looks forward to a prompt resolution of these issues.”

Kuhl’s order is the latest development in a court battle that began 15 years ago when Tutor sued the MTA, contending it was owed roughly $16 million for unanticipated expenses incurred during construction.

Four years later, the MTA brought a countersuit, alleging that Tutor had demanded payment for claims that were not legitimate and inflated the cost of building parts of the subway.

In 2001, a jury awarded the MTA about $29 million in damages, plus attorney fees and other expenses — a verdict that was overturned in 2005 by an appeals court and sent back to Los Angeles County Superior Court for further proceedings.

The legal battle has become controversial because the MTA has spent more than $34 million, even though the most the agency could win in damages would be about half that amount.

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Kuhl became concerned about the possibility of witness tampering during hearings to determine whether the MTA should be held in contempt of court. Attorneys for the joint venture had requested the proceeding.

The matter involves Dennis Alexander, who worked on the Red Line project during the 1990s and was sought by Tutor as a witness in its lawsuit. Evidence from the contempt proceeding indicates that Alexander, now an employee of another MTA subcontractor, was reassigned from a carpool lane project because he was expected to appear as a witness.

Evidence shows that Alexander was trying to avoid testifying in hope that he could be reinstated to his previous position, Kuhl stated.

“MTA committed an act that disadvantaged Mr. Alexander with respect to his employment on a major MTA project and that adverse action was sufficient to motivate Mr. Alexander to attempt to avoid testifying in this litigation,” Kuhl wrote.

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The judge stated that she wanted to refer the case to the attorney general because she did not have all relevant evidence to conclude whether MTA officials intended to dissuade Alexander from being a witness.

dan.weikel@latimes.com


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