High-profile law firm plans to quit sexual assault case targeting Rep. Tony Cardenas
Lawyers for a woman who has accused U.S. Rep. Tony Cardenas of sexually assaulting her when she was a teen say they plan to stop representing her in her lawsuit.
Attorneys with Lisa Bloom, whose high-profile firm has represented women in multiple #MeToo cases, filed paperwork saying they cannot continue representing Angela Villela Chavez in her case against Cardenas, a Democrat who represents a large portion of the San Fernando Valley.
In a document filed with the court on Friday, a lawyer with Bloom’s team said the firm is required to withdraw from the case under the State Bar’s Rules of Professional Conduct.
“We also believe we are not permitted to disclose, at least in these moving papers, which Rule of Professional Conduct requires our withdrawal,” the filing says.
The change in legal representation comes less than three months before a scheduled jury trial in the case and weeks before a hearing on whether the lawsuit should be thrown out. Bloom had no comment Friday when contacted by The Times. Chavez could not be reached.
Chavez, 28, has accused Cardenas of groping her in a car in 2007, after she collapsed during a round of golf with the congressman in Cheviot Hills. The lawsuit alleges that Cardenas gave Chavez, then 16, a cup of ice water with a “peculiar taste” shortly before she collapsed.
Chavez said she filed the lawsuit, in part, because she was encouraged by the #MeToo cases that have been filed in recent years over sexual abuse. She publicly identified herself in January.
Cardenas has repeatedly denied the allegations and said he expects to be fully exonerated. His lawyer, Patricia Glaser, has described the lawmaker’s accuser as the daughter of a disgruntled ex-employee who may also be “the victim of manipulation.”
“Never, ever was there any inappropriate touching,” Glaser said last year.
Because they plan to stop representing Chavez, attorneys in Bloom’s firm intend to ask a judge to delay the trial by four months. A hearing on that request is scheduled for Monday.
Cardenas attorney Joel Klevens said in an email that his firm will oppose the request for a postponement. He did not elaborate.
The State Bar’s Rules of Professional Conduct offer a handful of scenarios in which lawyers must terminate their representation of a client. For example, a lawyer must withdraw if he concludes that the client is bringing an action that is “without probable cause and for the purpose of harassing or maliciously injuring any person.”
The rules state that lawyers also must end their relationship with a client if they are not in a physical or mental condition to continue providing effective representation. Attorneys also must stop representing a client or if they know, or reasonably should know, that such representation will result in a violation of State Bar rules.
For example, a lawyer would be obligated to pull out if he discovers that his law firm has a conflict of interest and is representing multiple parties in the proceedings, said attorney Neil Wertlieb, who chairs the ethics committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Assn.
“Clients deserve to get the undivided loyalty of their lawyer,” said Wertlieb, an adjunct professor at the UCLA School of Law.
Chavez is the daughter of Gus Villela, who worked in various jobs for Cardenas, including a 10-month stint in the congressman’s district office.
Former Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon said in an interview with The Times last year that Villela approached him in 2016, offering to spread negative information about Cardenas in exchange for a job with Alarcon’s congressional campaign.
Alarcon, who ran against Cardenas in 2016, said he declined to hire Villela and reported the meeting to the FBI.
In her lawsuit, Chavez said Cardenas arranged for her to receive various forms of assistance, including free golf coaching and tournament fees and free rent for her family at a house in Pacoima.
Glaser, in turn, said Cardenas devoted his time and foundation money to helping a number of young people, and called it “pathetic” that his generosity was being used against him in a lawsuit.
The first sign that Chavez’s legal team was in flux came during a hearing Tuesday.
Alan Goldstein, an attorney with Bloom, said that one of the lawyers assigned to the case had left the firm. Goldstein said a second lawyer also had departed and a third was on an extended leave of absence, prompting a need for a delay in the trial.
Two days later, Goldstein sent an email to Cardenas’ lawyers saying his firm intended to withdraw from the case entirely, and that their client had not yet secured a new lawyer, according to documents filed with the court.
A judge must approve the request by Bloom’s firm to withdraw from the case.
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