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California

Lawsuit alleging workplace affair by Councilman Jose Huizar can proceed, judge says

LOS ANGELES, CA: June 16, 2015 - Los Angeles City Council member Jose Huizar speaks during a City Co
Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar, pictured in 2015, failed in his attempt to postpone proceedings in a wrongful termination lawsuit filed against him. A judge said the case can proceed even as Huizar confronts a federal criminal probe.
(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

A judge Monday delivered a courtroom victory to an ex-staffer for Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar, denying the councilman’s request to put the case on hold while he deals with a federal criminal investigation.

In a three-page ruling, Superior Court Judge Richard E. Rico said the discrimination, workplace harassment and wrongful termination suit filed by former staffer Mayra Alvarez can proceed — a move that would allow Huizar to face questions under oath about her allegations.

Alvarez alleged in her lawsuit that she faced retaliation after complaining to her superiors that Huizar was engaged in an extramarital affair with a co-worker and had given that co-worker preferential treatment. She also alleged that Huizar was involved in illegal activities, such as assigning staffers to work on political campaigns on government time.

Huizar has called the allegations “completely false.” His lawyers argued that a delay in the Alvarez case would preserve Huizar’s 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination.

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FBI agents searched Huizar’s home and offices last year. Huizar’s lawyers said that if he responds to the accusations in the Alvarez lawsuit, he could end up undermining his defense in the criminal investigation.

In his ruling, Rico said Huizar’s legal team had failed to show that the allegations in Alvarez’s civil lawsuit are the same or similar to alleged violations of law “for which Huizar is being investigated.” Still, the judge left open the possibility that he could change course if more information emerges.

“If the obvious happens, you can come back here,” he told Huizar’s lawyers.

The ruling in the Alvarez case came less than a week after a different judge denied a request from the councilman to delay proceedings in another workplace harassment and wrongful termination lawsuit — that one filed by former Huizar staffer Pauline Medina.

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In that case, the judge said Huizar cannot be questioned under oath by Medina’s attorney until the FBI investigation is resolved.

Rico’s ruling in the Alvarez case is more far-reaching, said Terrence Jones, the lawyer representing Alvarez.

In the Alvarez case, “I can depose whoever I want, including the councilman,” said Jones, who also represents Medina.

Alvarez filed her lawsuit in October, claiming that Huizar had instructed her to alter appointment calendars from 2015 and 2016 that had been requested by The Times under the California Public Records Act. She said Huizar did not want the public to know about meetings with lobbyists and developers.

Alvarez also alleged that staffers were assigned to perform personal tasks for the councilman, such as going to his Boyle Heights home and taking out his dog so it could relieve itself.

A lawyer for Huizar declined to comment on the case on his way out of the courtroom on Monday. But previously, Huizar has called Alvarez’s allegations “absolute nonsense.”

“It is nothing more than a hit piece orchestrated by political operatives who seek to undermine all the good work I’ve accomplished on behalf of my constituents,” he said in a statement last year.

david.zahniser@latimes.com

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Twitter: @DavidZahniser


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