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Former top attorney sues L.A. County over ouster

Mark Saladino, the former county counsel, has sued Los Angeles County to get his job back.
(lacounty.gov)

Mark Saladino, the former top attorney for Los Angeles County, has filed a lawsuit against the county and the Board of Supervisors, saying that the supervisors violated the state’s open meetings law when they pushed him out of the position.

The suit seeks to have him reinstated to his old job.

Saladino, who had previously been county treasurer and tax collector, served nine months as county counsel. He abruptly announced in June 2015 that he was resigning from the post and returning to the Department of Treasurer and Tax Collector in a management role below his old position as head of the department.

The supervisors voted in September 2014 to appoint Saladino to the top attorney post, with Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas casting the lone dissenting vote.

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Two of the other supervisors who voted in favor of appointing Saladino, Gloria Molina and Zev Yaroslavsky, retired from the board shortly thereafter and were replaced by Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl.

In a complaint filed last week, Saladino alleged that the newly configured Board of Supervisors decided to terminate him in a closed-door meeting on June 9, 2015, but did not report the decision to the public as required by the Ralph M. Brown Act.

Instead, a public report on the closed meeting said a scheduled discussion of department head performance evaluations was postponed to the following week.

According to Saladino’s complaint, the day after the meeting, he was called into a meeting with Supervisors Michael D. Antonovich and Solis and private attorney Louis “Skip” Miller, in which they told him that the board “had discussed and decided to immediately remove him from the duties of county counsel” and that he would be reassigned. The supervisors told him to issue a press release saying he had requested the reassignment, he said.

Saladino argued that the June 9 meeting report “falsely relays the message that no discussion took place.”

“The decision to terminate, dismiss, accept the resignation of, or affect the employment status of county counsel is certainly a reportable action under the Brown Act,” the complaint said.

County spokesman David Sommers declined to comment on the lawsuit.

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But in a letter sent to Saladino’s attorney, Robert C. Baker, and attached as an exhibit in the lawsuit complaint, Miller argued that the board had not taken action to terminate Saladino and that they were not required to report a decision to transfer him to another position.

“As you know, there was no change in Mr. Saladino’s compensation, he kept his automobile allowance, and he asked to be transferred back to his old Department,” Miller wrote.

Under Saladino’s employment contract, he was paid $288,915 as county counsel. According to Sommers, Saladino’s current monthly salary is $18,250, or $219,000 a year.

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Saladino said that at the June 10 meeting, he asked to be transferred to one of two other positions “commensurate with his rank, experience and skills that would have allowed him to transition out of the position of county counsel with less damage to his good name and reputation.”

County Chief Executive Sachi Hamai initially agreed to one of the requested transfers, but it was blocked by Ridley-Thomas, Saladino said in the complaint.

He said he then agreed to take the lower position in his old department, rather than being placed on administrative leave until another position could be found for him.

The suit seeks a court declaration that the supervisors violated the Brown Act and to have his removal from the county counsel position overturned.

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abby.sewell@latimes.com

Twitter: @sewella


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