Animosity between head of AIDS group, L.A. County supervisor emerges
Long-simmering animosity between two Los Angeles political figures reached new heights this week when their bad blood surfaced in a footnote attached to a federal judge’s ruling.
The footnote revealed a series of vitriolic remarks made by AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein about Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.
In a lawsuit filed in December 2012, the foundation had accused county officials of using audits of the nonprofit’s contracts to retaliate against it for criticizing the county and advocating for policies county leaders opposed.
The nonprofit and the county have tangled repeatedly over contract and billing disputes, questions about patient care and a successful ballot measure the foundation bankrolled in 2012 to require adult film actors to wear condoms.
But U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson ruled in the county’s favor Monday.
“Rather than a sincere attempt to vindicate their First Amendment rights,” the judge noted, “the court fears that plaintiffs instituted this action in an effort to obtain a tactical advantage in their ongoing political battles” with the county.
In support of that reasoning, he included an excerpt from an email Weinstein sent to a foundation staff member in November 2012, shortly before the suit was filed:
“It is time to take the gloves off,” Weinstein wrote. “We need to go after Zev [Yaroslavsky] directly and hard. He is the real power behind our problems with the county on porn, the audit and fee-for-service. Plus he is a lame duck and an arrogant jerk. His Berman-Waxman power base is dead and he and others need to be taught a lesson. The voters are with us.”
Weinstein went on to say that the organization should call for county Public Health Director Jonathan Fielding and Mario Perez, the head of its sexually transmitted disease programs, to step down.
“This needs to be coordinated with our legal strategy,” he wrote. “I want to go to court much sooner than later. I am tired of us being on defense. We have little to lose considering how unreasonable they have been.”
Yaroslavsky said in an interview Wednesday that the ruling was a “complete vindication” of the county’s position. And he shot back at Weinstein.
“Contrary to some high-minded 1st Amendment motivation, he’s shown to be a thug,” the supervisor said of Weinstein. “He’s used his nonprofit organization in a crass and bullying political way to get his way, which is to avoid being held accountable.”
The lawsuit arose out of an audit in which the county claimed the foundation had overcharged the county $1.7 million for its AIDS services by billing it for costs that should have been allocated to other funding sources. The judge did not address which side was correct about the billing issue, but noted that the county has the right to audit its contractors.
Weinstein said in an interview that regardless of who was billed for the costs, all the money was spent serving patients, and he defended the organization’s political tactics.
“We would not have gotten to where we are today if we hadn’t fought like hell on behalf of our clients and our mission,” he said.
Weinstein also stood by the statements he had made about Yaroslavsky.
“Anyone who attends virtually any Tuesday Board of Supervisors meeting knows who the thug is,” he said.
Weinstein said his group would appeal the ruling and continue fighting on the retaliation issue in an ongoing lawsuit in state court over similar allegations.
The county is also fighting another suit by the foundation alleging that the county improperly awarded sole source contracts to other health service providers. The foundation previously prevailed in two similar suits over another contract.
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