Glendale park naturalists' lawsuit delayed

Two former Glendale park naturalists may call nearly 40 former and current city employees to testify next month in a trial for their lawsuit in which they claim they were fired for raising concerns about a supervisor misusing city resources. 

The federal trial for Russell Hauck and Eric Grossman was expected to start on Tuesday, but was put off until April 30 to give attorneys more time to resolve “several outstanding issues,” according to U.S. District court records. 

Attorneys on both sides had already submitted briefs and lists of witnesses and evidence as they prepared for the jury trial, which could last a week. 

The attorney for Russ and Grossman said his clients were “outstanding professionals” who were fired for “reporting the misconduct of the assistant director of parks and recreation.” 

“We simply have no choice but to appeal to a jury to vindicate their rights,” the attorney, Solomon Gresen, said.

City Atty. Mike Garcia declined to comment on pending litigation.

Hauck and Grossman filed their joint federal lawsuit in 2011, claiming they were laid off only after they raised concerns about Dave Ahern, then acting assistant director for the Community Services & Parks Department. 

Ahern allegedly used city workers, including Grossman, and a city vehicle in January 2011 to move rocks from Deukmejian Wilderness Park to landscape his home, according to the lawsuit.

Soon after Hauck reported the incident to a supervisor, someone anonymously complained about Ahern's use of city property and personnel for his personal use.

After Ahern admitted the incident to Jess Duran, community services & parks director, he was suspended for three days, according to the lawsuit.

Some witnesses expected to testify during trial are Ahern, Human Resources Director Matt Doyle and former Parks & Recreation Director George Chapjian, who may talk about city policies, budgetary processes and Ahern's conduct, according to court documents.

Attorneys planned to ask a city secretary about the conversations between Glendale officials, including a statement from Chapjian allegedly saying he “got rid of the ranger program to get rid of Hauck,” according to court documents.

Former community services administrator Brittney Bilotti was also expected to testify about similar statements allegedly made by Chapjian and Ahern about the plaintiffs. 

Evidence to be presented during the trial included performance evaluations, emails, calls for service logs, audio recordings and video footage of City Council meetings.

In 2011, the City Council eliminated the Open Space and Trails Program, including the park naturalists, after Duran listed it as a discretionary program during citywide budget cuts.

Hauck and Grossman, who were initially hired as park rangers and became sworn police officers, were terminated June 30, less than six weeks after complaining about Ahern, according to the lawsuit.

Hauck has since moved to Nevada, where he is studying to become a high school science teacher, his attorney said. Grossman is working in private security.

Last year, Glendale officials began recruiting new trail-safety-patrol volunteers to replace naturalists and help monitor more than 5,000 acres of open space in the city.


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