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Lawyers in City Atty. Mike Feuer’s office badmouthed a co-worker. Now he’s getting a $1-million payout

A man in a suit with an "I Voted" sticker on it.
Lawyers working for Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer repeatedly wrote disparaging emails about a colleague, according to a confidential memo reviewed by The Times.
(Matt Pearce / Los Angeles Times)
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For more than three years, lawyers in the office of Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer were extremely unhappy with one of their colleagues.

Anthony Koutris, a longtime deputy city attorney, had filed multiple workers’ compensation claims saying he’d suffered on-the-job injuries. Supervisors in Feuer’s office were annoyed by his requests, and badmouthed him repeatedly in emails sent between 2015 and 2018.

One high-level supervisor said Koutris had a reputation as a “lazy ne’er do well.” Another suggested he was trying to blackmail the office into letting him work closer to his home. A third said Koutris had the “fat, dumb and happy look of someone leading a stress-free existence.”

Now, Koutris is on track to receive a payout of up to $1 million from the city of Los Angeles, bringing an end to a lawsuit alleging he faced age discrimination, disability discrimination and retaliation from his superiors.

The City Council signed off on the payment last month after receiving a confidential legal memo warning that the “vitriol and spite” expressed in those emails — and many others written by lawyers in Feuer’s office — would have severely undermined the city’s credibility at trial.

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While Feuer launched his “underdog” ad, mayoral candidate Ramit Varma announced he is putting an additional $2.5 million into his own mayoral bid.

April 25, 2022

“We hired a jury consultant, who ... felt that this case needed to be settled and was one of the worst examples of unprofessional correspondence she had seen,” said the memo, a copy of which was reviewed by The Times.

Koutris declined to comment, and his lawyer did not respond to multiple calls from The Times.

Asked about the case, Feuer spokesman Rob Wilcox said his boss expects his employees to treat people professionally and with “respect and dignity.” Feuer holds his managers accountable for making sure those practices are followed, Wilcox said in a statement.

“The city attorney ... has fought his entire career for diverse and welcoming workplaces where employees’ dignity and rights are valued, respected and protected,” Wilcox said. “As this is both a subject of litigation and a personnel matter, we cannot comment further.”

Feuer is running for mayor in the June 7 primary election, campaigning on a record of “strong, proven, effective and experienced leadership.” Wilcox is appearing on the same ballot as a candidate for city controller.

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Wilcox said that, as a candidate, he has no comment on the Koutris case.

Koutris worked in the city attorney’s office from 1998 to 2018, spending most of his tenure handling criminal cases. He filed his lawsuit against the city in 2019, alleging he was mistreated after reporting that he had suffered on-the-job medical issues, including injuries to his lower back.

In his lawsuit, Koutris accused city officials of fighting his workers’ compensation claims, denying him injured-on-duty pay and ignoring his many requests to relocate to an office in the San Fernando Valley — a move aimed at easing his back problems by shortening his commute.

Instead of granting his request, staffers in Feuer’s office recommended that, during his drive into downtown, Koutris pull over after 30 minutes, rest and then resume his commute, according to his lawsuit.

The city’s lawyers “knew Mr. Koutris was suffering from disabilities,” his lawsuit states. “Yet instead of offering to assist him, they beat him down mentally until he was crippled by orthopedic injuries, [high] blood pressure, severe anxiety, depression, and humiliation.”

Lawyers for the city have disputed the idea that the treatment of Koutris was discriminatory, saying in their memo to the council that they accommodated his work restrictions, providing about 40 months of medical leave. They also accused Koutris of sending his own problematic emails.

Some were “nasty and over the top,” while a few from 2011 and 2012 were “racist and pornographic,” according to the memo, which was prepared by Liebert Cassidy Whitmore, the firm hired to defend the city.

Nevertheless, the city’s legal team warned that mentioning those emails at trial — and the notion that Koutris could been fired for sending them — would open the door for Koutris’ lawyers to discuss “a plethora of other employees at the office who had done much worse,” such as committing assault.

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The city’s legal team also offered a number of other reasons that a jury would side with Koutris, a longtime trial lawyer who “presents well at deposition.”

Koutris had prevailed in his workers’ compensation claims, undermining the argument that he had faked his injuries. He had no documented record of poor performance, because Feuer’s office did not conduct performance evaluations on its attorneys. And the city never investigated his complaints, including “those made directly to Mike Feuer,” the memo said.

Koutris “is likely to present as a sympathetic witness,” the legal team wrote. The city faced a total legal exposure of $3 million in the case, with a jury awarding “significant economic and emotional stress damages” to Koutris at trial, the memo said.

Many of the disparaging comments about Koutris were made by supervisors in the city’s criminal branch, according to the memo.

While discussing Koutris’ difficulty in getting around, one high-level lawyer suggested that someone give him the “scooter” of one of his co-workers, one who had cerebral palsy, according to the memo. Another referred to Koutris as a “total fraud.”

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Mike Sheehan, a former colleague of Koutris, said Koutris was neither lazy nor a fraud. None of the people who disparaged him at his office ever watched him during a trial, said Sheehan, who worked as a deputy city attorney from 1998 to 2020.

“He knows how to handle a courtroom,” Sheehan said. “He isn’t intimidated by anyone or anything.”

According to the memo prepared for the council, the key players who wrote the emails have retired, and some were uncooperative when contacted by the city’s legal team.

“None were particularly motivated to provide context for their comments,” the memo said.

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