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Entertainment & Arts

Plácido Domingo harassment inquiry will be led by the lawyer behind USC investigation

Placido Domingo
An investigation of Plácido Domingo will start immediately, Los Angeles Opera says.
(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles Opera has hired Debra Wong Yang from the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher to conduct a “thorough and independent investigation” into sexual harassment allegations against Plácido Domingo, the company’s general director. The investigation will begin immediately, the company said Tuesday.

Yang is a former U.S. attorney and Los Angeles County Superior Court judge. She is the chair of her firm’s Crisis Management Practice Group and has investigated other headline-grabbing cases.

In 2017, USC turned to Yang to investigate the conduct of Dr. Carmen A. Puliafito, the former medical school dean who used drugs and partied with younger addicts, prostitutes and others in 2015. After USC banned him from campus, Puliafito was allowed to resign in 2017. In a settlement with the university, he received nearly $1 million in severance and a bonus.

The L.A. Opera investigation comes after eight singers and one dancer told the Associated Press that they had been sexually harassed by Domingo in the 1980s, ’90s and early 2000s. According to the report, the women said Domingo made unwanted sexual advances and tried to pressure them into sexual relationships. When they refused those advances, many told AP, they stopped getting hired for Domingo productions.

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Domingo issued a statement calling the allegations “deeply troubling, and as presented, inaccurate.”

In hiring Yang, L.A. Opera has chosen an investigator who has faced questions about her impartiality with USC. She has represented the university in at least four lawsuits and was an adjunct professor at its law school in the 1990s. Her firm also has extensive ties to USC.

Critics also point out that two years after she was tapped for the investigation, Yang’s findings remain secret. USC has repeatedly declined to share any portion of the Gibson, Dunn report, and the university has not said whether the report will ever become public.

In 2014, Yang was hired by then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as part of the Gibson, Dunn team that investigated his role in the Bridgegate scandal. Yang is a personal friend of Christie’s who cohosted a fundraiser for his presidential campaign while her firm was still working on the case.

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Christie was never charged in the case. Two associates were convicted on conspiracy and wire fraud charges in 2016.

Experts said Yang did not violate any established legal ethics rules by taking the USC assignment, but some experts said her conclusions could raise questions.

Richard Zitrin, a legal ethics professor at UC Hastings, told The Times in 2017 that the issue wasn’t whether Yang could “write a fair report” but whether “her prior representation of the university, particularly on litigation matters, calls into question her objectivity.”


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