L.A. County and its former top lawyer settle lawsuits over his removal
Los Angeles County and its former top lawyer have settled a series of lawsuits over the lawyer’s removal in 2015, ending an acrimonious public feud, a lawyer for the county said Thursday.
Mark J. Saladino, who served as county counsel for less than a year before being asked to resign in 2015, sued the county and the Board of Supervisors in 2016 alleging wrongful termination and violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act, California’s open-meetings law. This year, the county countersued Saladino for breach of fiduciary duty and confidentiality.
Under the settlement, Saladino will pay the county $50,000, and the county will pay no money to him, Skip Miller, an outside counsel for the county, said Thursday.
”We wanted to end the litigation,” Miller said in an interview.
Saladino declined to comment. In a May 30 letter sent to the board, separate from the settlement, Saladino expressed regret for the statements he made against the county and for bringing the lawsuits.
“I was unaware of all the facts and circumstances surrounding the events in question,” Saladino wrote in the letter, a copy of which was provided to The Times by the county. “I was extremely upset because of my abrupt transfer and acted out of a sense of having been treated unfairly.”
Supervisors appointed Saladino county counsel in September 2014 on a 4-1 vote. Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas cast the dissenting vote. Saladino had previously headed the county treasurer and tax collector’s office.
In June 2015, Saladino wrote a memo to his employees at the county counsel’s office notifying them of his transfer to the post of assistant treasurer and tax collector but provided no reason.
In one lawsuit, Saladino claimed the Board of Supervisors violated the Brown Act by deciding in closed sessions to terminate him and to approve his transfer without providing proper notice or reporting the outcomes of the sessions afterward.
In a second lawsuit, Saladino said that in a private meeting Supervisor Hilda Solis and then-Supervisor Michael Antonovich pressured him to resign and to issue a press release with a fictitious reason for doing so. He said the board forced him to accept a demotion in retaliation for his attempting to prevent the board from violating the Brown Act and from circumventing checks on its power.
The ex-county attorney also alleged that he had been targeted by Ridley-Thomas for having raised concerns about the supervisor’s use of public funds and for having close ties to former county Chief Executive William T Fujioka, with whom Ridley-Thomas had clashed.
Attorneys for the county argued in their response that the board was justified in its actions and had complied with the Brown Act. They said Saladino had no legal grounds to sue because he voluntarily accepted the agreement transferring him back to the treasurer and tax collector’s office.
This year a judge ruled in favor of the county and threw out Saladino’s wrongful-termination suit.
In their countersuit, filed in April, attorneys for the county claimed that Saladino erroneously signed off on a memo written by Fujioka to approve approximately $140,000 in vacation pay for Supervisor Don Knabe upon his retirement. Supervisors elected before July 1994 were allowed the benefit, but Knabe was elected in 1996.
An outside attorney hired by the county later confirmed that Knabe was not eligible for the payment, and he did not receive it when he retired in 2016.
In his letter to the board, Saladino said he should have handled the memo differently.
The settlement reached this week ends all three lawsuits.
Saladino is no longer employed by the county. In 2015, a few months after being transferred, he went on temporary disability leave, and he was later granted permanent disability retirement.
“As I move forward into the next chapter of my life,” Saladino wrote to the board, “I want you to know that my biggest regret is that my county career ended this way, and that I will be remorseful until the day I die.”
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