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(Editor’s Note: Last UPDATED at 1 a.m. Wednesday)
By Brian Hews and Randy Economy
Within hours after a published report by Los Cerritos Community Newspaper that outlined specific details of a controversial contract between the City of Huntington Park and its longtime powerful city attorney Francisco Leal, the formal relationship between the two entities was officially dissolved on Tuesday.
“The City of Huntington Park and its contracted City Attorney, Francisco Leal of the Law Firm of Leal & Trejo have agreed to part ways. The City Council of Huntington Park received the resignation today of Leal and Trejo which takes effect immediately. Mr. Leal and his firm have represented this City since December 2003 on legal matters pertaining to city business, policies, procedures and contracts.”
“The City appreciates his services to date as the agree to part ways.”
“The leadership of the City of Huntington Park has agreed to end the contract for services with our city attorney,” said City Manager Rene Bobadilla.
“At this time, we feel the legal needs of our city have evolved significantly and it was best for us to consider other options and resources to best meet these needs.”
Bobadilla stated that the search for new legal counsel and resources would begin immediately but could not predict how long it would take to name a new city attorney, up to and including a formal RFP Process. “We will work closely with city council members to make sure that future legal counsel can meet the needs of the city’s current and future operational and business concerns.” he said.
City officials stated that they don’t “expect any significant disruptions to current city business for day-to-day operations while this process moves forward.”
“The selection process will be posted on the city’s website and through other appropriate announcements in the next few weeks.”
Interim legal counsel has yet to be determined.
“As a contracted service to the City of Huntington Park, the City Attorney is not an employee of the city and is not entitled to benefits. City Attorney services are provided through contract agreement and can be terminated by the city at its discretion with appropriate notice.”
Los Cerritos Community News published the contract between the law offices of Leal and Trejo on Tuesday afternoon and reported that taxpayers in the cash starved city could be on the financial hook to legally defend LA County Assessor John Noguez in any possible criminal charges he may face in the future, including the ongoing massive political corruption probe at the LA County Assessor’s office.
Leal, who is the main legal counsel with the firm, came under public scrutiny Monday night after angry residents served formal recall notices on all five city council members.
Leal & Trejo’s legal service rates ranged from $180 per hour not to exceed $30,000 per month, and “special legal services” that shall be billed at $250 per hour with no limitation on a monthly amount, LCCN reported.
A closer inspection of the scope description reveals possible loopholes that can allow Leal to defend Noguez, who is a former city councilman and mayor. Noguez is on a formal paid leave of absence from his responsibilities as Assessor of Los Angeles County and is the central figure in a massive criminal probe that is centered on bribery, forgery and money laundering allegations.
Buried in the “scope description” of the contract is the following directive, “(Leal and Trejo) law firm shall….represent and appear for the City, and City officers or employees, or former City officers or employees, in any or all actions and proceedings in which the city or any such officer or employee…. is a party.”
Many observers say the “former City officer or employee loophole” gave Leal permission to defend Noguez in any possible future criminal trials. Noguez was a Huntington Park City Councilman and Mayor between 2005-2010.
REACTION SWIFT FROM COMMUNITY MEMBERS
Reactions poured into Los Cerritos Community Newspaper from some of Leal’s biggest detractors just hours after the decision was made public.
Longtime resident Valentin Amezquita told LCCN that “if it was not because of the pressure of the residents and the media coverage on the city attorney’s salary at $40,000 per month, it would be business as usual in City of Huntington Park.”
“The problem is not over with the City Attorney’s questionable resignation. The problem of the City still remains in the five remaining City Council members who have mismanaged, misled the City, and will continue to do so if not removed quickly from office,” said Amezquita.
Huntington Park Citizens United, an organization who has been “dedicated to bring to light the corruption within Huntington Park” said through spokesperson Karina Macias that, “Government without transparency means they are hiding something. Clearly Mr. Leal has something to hide do to his quickly resignation following the pressure of the current movement for recall of the City Council members.”
Community Activist Marilyn Sanabria also told LCCN that, “Mr. Leal’s questionable resignation is only because he was unable to answer to residents and the huge media coverage on his unjustifiable salary. Many questions remain unanswered in the City of Huntington Park, such as the questionable ties that the current council members have to, currently under investigation, Los Angeles Tax Assessor, John Noguez, and allegations of corruptions that have risen in part because currently the recall process is underway.”
A local website www.watchourcity.com has been reporting on the political climate surrounding Huntington Park City Hall and other local municipalities for the past decade. ”The problems with the City leadership and related contracts like the City Attorney and others have gone on for far too long,” the Editor for the website told LCCN.
Los Cerritos Community Newspaper will have additional details on this situation on Wednesday.
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