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By Brian Hews
Hews Media Group-Community News has obtained information that strongly indicates the 2010 perjury case against current Commerce Councilman Hugo Argumedo, prosecuted by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office under Steve Cooley, was missing critical evidence that likely would have resulted in a dismissal in favor of Argumedo.
The information is contained in an Opposition to Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Argumedo’s attorneys dated June 21, 2016 and examined by HMG-CN.
Argumedo was charged with a felony and subsequently plead guilty to one misdemeanor count of obstruction of justice, was forced to resign his council seat, and was prohibited from running for office for three years.
The case against Argumedo, who signed a Declaration letter in favor of Francisco Leal’s lawsuit against Commerce in 2005, cited that the Declaration “contained closed-session communications, and revealed confidential attorney-client privilege in which the City did not authorized its release.”
But in reality the contents of the Declaration were public record.
On September 7, 2005, Leal filed a civil action against the City of Commerce to recover legal fees for March, April and May of 2005 in the amount of $125,626. On January 6, 2006, the City of Commerce filed a cross-complaint.
The case languished for over a year when, on September 19, 2006, judge Andrea K. Richey arranged for a Mandatory Settlement Conference (MSC) between Leal and the City with Judge Kenneth R. Freeman presiding.
On September 21, 2006, Freeman entered a “Minute Order” stating, “the case is settled.” On the same day, Judge Richey recorded, “it appears that the case has settled pending Council approval on September 22, 2006.”
Court records indicate that then-Commerce Mayor Nancy Ramos, current Commerce City Attorney Eduardo Olivo, and Leal attended the meeting.
Leal, Olivo, and Ramos all agreed on a settlement amount of $20,000, with Leal issuing a letter of apology to the Commerce City Council. Olivo and Ramos affirmed in the MSC that they promised the Judge “to bring the settlement to the Commerce Council and support and recommend it (to Council).”
The settlement was now on the record and written into court documents, which made the settlement public record, an extremely important part of the Argumedo investigation that was overlooked.
The fact that the settlement was public record should have negated the investigation into Argumedo, but the DA, in charging Argumedo in 2010, knew nothing about it because it was somehow left out of the criminal complaint filed in 2008.
Closed Session Meeting and Confidential Minutes
The Commerce City Council subsequently met in closed session to discuss the judicially approved MSC agreement on Sept. 22, 2006.
Present at that meeting was Olivo, Ramos, Tina Baca Del Rio, Robert Fierro, Rosalina Lopez, and Argumedo.
Former City Clerk Linda Kay Oliveri took “confidential minutes of the meeting in conformity, as is her custom.”
It was those minutes that would affirm Argumedo’s innocence in the case.
The minutes did not contain any conversations with Council or Olivo in reference to Leal and the City reaching a “negotiated settlement” agreement at the MSC.
The minutes also did not contain conversations of Mayor Ramos and Olivos with Council to support and recommend the agreement to Council, as promised to Judge Freeman.
But, the Oliveri minutes did confirm verbiage that changed the nature of the conversations, with Olivo calling the MSC a “settlement offer,” subtly, if not intentionally, indicating that the offer was unilateral.
In essence the minutes showed that Olivo and Ramos concealed the negotiated terms of the settlement agreement from the Council, and did not fulfill their promises to Judge Freeman.
The Council, not happy with the $20,000, countered with $70,000, and the two parties settled, not knowing Leal had other plans.
On January 12, 2007, Olivo sent a letter to Leal demanding the first settlement payment, which was due on January 1.
On January 22, Leal blasted Olivo and Ramos and accused the two of concealing the negotiated settlement agreement from the City Council reached at the MSC.
Leal further accused Olivo of misleading him, the Court, and the City Council, and stated that Olivo and Ramos “manipulated the closed session and purposely avoided the procedural voting requirements.”
The case sat, until two months later, when Bradley Pierce, with the Costa Mesa based law firm of McCormick, Kidman and Behrens, LLP, on behalf of the City of Commerce, filed a complaint against Leal for breach of contract and false promise.
Leal countered, revisiting the fact that the settlement agreement had not been presented to the Council and that Ramos had not followed through with her promise as outlined in the MSC.
Leal presented the signed declaration of Argumedo in support of Leal where Argumedo talked about what occurred during the closed session meeting.
Pierce countered with another court filing but lost, with a judge ruling that Argumedo did not violate closed session rules; a crucial ruling that was hidden from DA investigators.
Judge Mary Ann Murphy said, “Argumedo’s (actions) are not wholly violative of Government Code 54963 (the code that dictates disclosure rules) because the fact of whether or not the $20,000 proposed settlement was voted on does not constitute the disclosure of confidential information that has been acquired by being present in a closed session.”
In spite of that, Oilvo, Pierce, and Tina Baca Del Rio mounted a campaign against Argumedo claiming he shared confidential closed-session information and that he discussed privileged matters with Leal.
Complaint to District Attorney Missing Crucial Information
Pierce’s firm, McCormick, Kidman and Behrens, LLP proceeded to send a complaint to David Demerjian, Esq., with the Los Angeles D.A., referring Argumedo and Leal to the Grand Jury.
It was later revealed in his own declaration that Pierce helped draft the complaint sent to Demerjian.
The complaint accused Argumedo of executing a sworn declaration in support of Leal. The declaration “contained confidential closed-session communications and revealed confidential attorney-client privilege.”
Surprisingly, the complaint’s timeline started on Sept. 22, 2008, the date of the Commerce City Council closed session meeting and completely omitted the events occurring between Sept. 19 and Sept. 21.
Argumedo’s attorneys called the omission “careless and negligent.”
The omission would have a massive effect on the D.A.’s case, and the subsequent plea deal of Argumedo.
The complaint did not include the minute orders of court records dated Sept. 19 and Sept. 21 as ordered by Freeman and Richey, or a copy of the settlement placed on the record at the MSC.
The complaint stated, “Councilman Argumedo revealed confidential closed session and attorney-client information and appears to have committed perjury by executing and submitting his Declaration.”
But Judge Murphy had already ruled the conversations were public record so the information was not confidential.
The Pierce complaint included Olivo’s sworn declaration stating, “at the September 22, 2006 meeting, Mayor Ramos and I presented and explained the $20,000 settlement proposal (to Council).”
But the minutes recorded by City Clerk Oliveri contradicted Olivo’s declaration; no conversations related to the MSC were put forth, in fact Olivo called the agreement a “settlement offer.”
Olivo’s future declarations were also wildly inconsistent.
On his April 30, 2008 declaraton included in the D.A. complaint, he pointed to, “the $20,000 settlement proposal that the parties negotiated at the MSC.”
Yet, in an April 21, 2016 declaration, Olivo indicating the agreement was unilateral, swore, “the City and the Leal mediated the matter.”
The investigation went on and was conducted by D.A. Investigator Mary Cenovich.
Cenovich indicated she reviewed all relevant documents including the Commerce City Council’s closed-session meeting minutes taken by Oliveri.
Cenovich also interviewed Olivo, Baca Del Rio, Rosalina Lopez, and Argumedo and Judge Murphy.
She had unfettered access to all documents in the complaint filed by McCormick, Kidman and Behrens, LLP, including Olivo’s and Pierce’s sworn declarations.
But, she did not know about the events of Sept 19-21, as they were mysteriously omitted by the McCormick, Kidman and Behrens, LLP complaint.
Ms. Cenovich did not interview Judge Richey or Judge Freeman, and she makes no mention of the underlying terms of the agreement from the MSC.
Despite that, on Dec. 14, 2010, based on McCormick, Kidman and Behrens, LLP’s complaint, Olivo’s declaration, and Cenovich’s investigation, the D.A. charged Argumedo with a felony.
Six days later the D.A. moved to amend the charges to add a misdemeanor.
The court, based on a plea negotiation, dismissed the felony, and Argumedo accepted the misdemeanor violation of obstruction of justice. He resigned his Council seat and agreed not to run for office for three years.
When told about the missing information, an angry Argumedo told HMG-CN, “Looks like all of the information was not provided to all of the public agencies, especially the evidence about the mandatory settlement conference and the parties promises to the court and each other.”
Argumedo’s attorneys went just a bit further in their criticism saying, “the evidence reveals a factual dispute concerning what was actually said and recorded at the September 22, 2006 City Council meeting. The Declarations of Bradley Pierce and Eduardo Olivo demonstrate that their summaries of evidence are inaccurate, incomplete, and misleading. The 9/22/06 handwritten and typewritten notes have also been augmented and edited, perhaps selectively.”
“Perhaps the most disturbing factual issues are those related to Eduardo Olivo’s and Bradley Pierce’s actions and conduct in presenting the criminal complaint to the District Attorney’s Office. Mary Cenovich, the District Attorneys’ Investigator, failed to obtain and review the Minute Orders and failed to obtain and secure the settlement terms contained on the public record. Most importantly, the evidence demonstrates that Eduardo Olivo and Bradley Pierce have repeatedly misled a series of judicial officers by concealing and secreting the existence of the recording containing the terms of the negotiated settlement agreement. These are major facts in dispute, including the fact that Mr. Argumedo’s declaration appears to be true and reliable.”
HMG-CN called the D.A.’s office, with Assistant Chief of Media Relations Jane Robison saying, “You are asking me to comment on a PID investigation. We do not comment on PID investigations.”
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