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Huizar's lawyers say report shows sexual harassment claims 'baseless'

A spokesman for a private law firm representing Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar said Friday that a city investigation into sexual harassment claims against the councilman concluded that the allegations were "baseless."

The investigative report by Batza and Associates, a confidential document provided to the council, has not been released by Huizar to The Times.

Huizar's former deputy chief of staff, Francine Godoy, sued him last year, alleging she faced retaliation and discrimination after refusing to provide “sexual favors.” Huizar has said that he and Godoy had a consensual affair and called the accusations “malicious and false.”

Godoy initially filed a complaint against Huizar last summer, prompting council President Herb Wesson to convene an investigative committee to look into the allegations and, if necessary, produce a report. The panel then turned to Batza. The committee reported this week that Batza had finished its work.

"We are very pleased that after a thorough and exhaustive review with numerous and comprehensive interviews, this distinguished panel of legal professionals has concluded that Ms. Godoy’s allegations are baseless," said Robert Alaniz, a spokeman for Walsh & Associates, the firm representing Huizar in the case.

"We have maintained all along that Ms. Godoy’s claims are false and malicious and that her claims are motivated by greed and a desire to destroy the council member’s reputation because he would not help advance her career as she demanded,” Alaniz added.

Council members went behind closed doors to the discuss the case Friday. They emerged from that meeting and voted to provide a contract worth up to $200,000 to Walsh & Associates in the case.

Councilman Bernard C. Parks said the city had no choice but to provide a legal defense for Huizar. But he also said it was not clear from the city’s investigative report what had happened between Huizar and his former aide. Huizar staffers were interviewed for the probe. But Godoy refused to be interviewed, preventing the city from carrying out "a full investigation," said Parks, who at one time was the city's police chief.

“The thing is, there’s nothing in [the report] of any substance,” said Parks.

Michael Eisenberg, the attorney representing Godoy, could not be immediately reached for comment.

Eisenberg had refused to make his client available to city investigators, saying remarks by Wesson showed the process was "fatally tainted." At a Huizar reelection fundraiser days after Godoy filed her lawsuit, Wesson called Huizar his "best friend on the council." Wesson said he had no role in choosing the committee members or their investigative firm.

The Friday vote to retain Walsh & Associates was 10-0, with council members Bob Blumenfield, Gil Cedillo, Mitch Englander, Paul Koretz and Huizar absent.

The firm has billed more than $41,000 since it started working for Huizar, according to a report by City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana. The agreement between the firm and the city will cover legal services beginning last August, including the bills that have accrued so far.

Because the city might have different interests than Huizar in the case, City Atty. Mike Feuer cannot represent both the councilman and the city. When such conflicts arise, the city normally turns to an existing pool of law firms to represent the employee, using a special fund set aside for such cases.

Walsh & Associates was not in that pool, but "was reported to the councilman as being expert in these kinds of issues," said law firm spokesman Alaniz. Huizar "felt very comfortable that [Walsh's] knowledge and expertise in this area was best suited to deal with this particular case."

The city pays to defend employees and elected officials "when they are sued based upon activities which ... could be within the course and scope of their employment," said Rob Wilcox, spokesman for Feuer. However, the city can later seek to recoup those costs if the defendant "ultimately is found liable on the basis of actions not within the course and scope of his or her employment."

Santana stated in his report that the spending would not impose any added costs on the general fund, which pays for basic city services. The special fund that covers such legal spending is paid for out of the general fund, but no additional money will need to be budgeted to cover it, Santana explained.

In addition, the Walsh contract must follow the city structure for billing rates in such cases, the same payment structure that the city would use if it turned to a firm in its existing pool, Santana said.


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