Metrolink board members dropped from former auditor’s lawsuit
Three board members for the Metrolink commuter railroad were dropped Friday as defendants in a lawsuit brought by a former auditor who accused them of defamation and retaliation for revealing widespread management problems.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael Stern granted a defense motion to dismiss Moorpark City Councilman Keith Millhouse, former state legislator Richard Katz and Larry McCallon, the mayor of Highland in San Bernardino County.
Attorneys for Barbara Manning, 64, who was fired as chief auditor in December, declined to contest the defense request in the four-month-old lawsuit.
“The granting of our motion speaks volumes about the frivolous nature of the case,” said Katz, a longtime Metrolink board member who was replaced during the summer. “This is an important affirmation of the ability of volunteer directors and commissioners to do their job. They need to be able to ask the hard questions without the fear of being sued.”
Manning alleged that she was defamed and improperly fired in retaliation for bringing many serious financial and management irregularities to light during her 16 months as the railroad’s top auditor.
She especially claimed that the three board members falsely accused her of causing safety problems for Metrolink, not following audit procedures and intending to issue an inaccurate report.
Metrolink officials never publicly explained why they took action against Manning, saying it was a confidential personnel matter.
Defense attorneys contended that the board members’ remarks or decisions related to Manning were protected from litigation under state law because they were done in official meetings where discussions can sometimes be frank and candid.
“As I have been saying, the lawsuit was completely meritless. This affirms that the actions we took were proper,” Millhouse said. “This case should never have been brought. Their strategy backfired.”
Manning was hired amid an ongoing effort by Metrolink to assess and correct a variety of management and accounting irregularities, which one internal agency report described as “a morass.”
In her lawsuit, Manning stated that she found a lack of accountability and transparency, unapproved wire transfers of funds, ticket sales that could not be accounted for and discrepancies between cash collected and reported.
The Southern California Regional Rail Authority, the operator of Metrolink, remains a defendant in the case. Attorneys say settlement discussions are underway related to the remainder of the lawsuit.
Metrolink, which has 512 miles of track, serves six Southern California counties -- Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura.
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