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The City paid its law firm over $150,000 for the ill-concieved action.
By Brian Hews
In a wide-ranging, analytical, and hard-hitting decision, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Johnson slammed three Commerce councilmembers and City Attorney Eddie Olivo for filing a Quo Warranto action in 2015 to remove Hugo Argumedo from his Commerce City Council seat.
Judge Johnson also called into question a letter written by Olivo and attorney Bradley Pierce, while also questioning the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s investigation and conviction of Argumedo.
Sources have told Hews Media Group-Community News that the lawsuit cost the City well over $150,000 in attorney’s fees going to Olivo and his firm.
HMG-CN reported exclusively one year ago that the city of Commerce had filed a Quo Warranto action, spearheaded by Commerce Councilmembers Tina Baca del Rio, Ivan Altamirano, Lelia Leon, and Oralia Rebollo in a thinly veiled attempt to retain their voting power over the Council.
Based on the documents submitted by Olivo and Baca del Rio, then Attorney General Kamala Harris, in a very questionable ruling, granted the City “leave to sue” Argumedo on Nov. 9, 2015.
Olivo and Baca del Rio claimed that a sworn declaration signed by Argumedo in 2005 constituted “malfeasance in office” and that he should be removed from his Council seat.
In 2005, after Olivo had taken over as city attorney, former city attorney Francisco Leal was forced to file a lawsuit for unpaid fees.
After months of legal wrangling, a superior court judge ordered the parties into a Mandatory Settlement Conference before Judge Kenneth Freeman in September 2006.
Leal and his attorney attended the conference as well as Olivo and then Commerce Mayor Nancy Ramos.
Over a period of three days they hammered out an agreement with Freeman ordering – and making it very clear – that Olivo and Ramos “should present the document to the Commerce Council as a settlement agreement.”
In September 2006, the council met in closed session but both Olivo and Ramos, according to handwritten notes taken by the city clerk and submitted as evidence, called it a settlement proposal, and never advised the Council that they had reached a settlement agreement, pending the Council’s approval.
Both Argumedo and Baca del Rio later testified under oath that Olivo and Ramos presented the settlement but “didn’t support it.”
Judge Johnson said as much is his decision stating, “…but that is not what happened at the closed session meeting. Olivo and Ramos did not present the settlement as a firm commitment, did not express their personal support for the settlement, and did not tell the councilmembers that Judge Freeman recommended the settlement.”
Olivo returned to court, reported to the judge and Leal that the council had rejected the settlement, and demanded more money from Leal to settle the case.
Leal was deceived into paying $70,000 instead of paying $20,000 as previously agreed, with the new agreement providing for monthly installments.
Included in the agreement was an oppressive default provision calling for 10% per month on the unpaid balance.
Months later, in a move any first year lawyer would have seen coming, Leal refused to pay citing the fact that Olivo and Ramos did not present or support the conference agreement as a settlement.
Leal then produced declarations, signed under penalty of perjury, from Argumedo and then Councilwoman Rosalina Lopez, both stating, and backed up by Baca del Rio’s statement, that Mayor Ramos and Olivo presented the agreement as an offer not as a settlement.
Later, Olivo and Pierce demanded that Lopez and Argumedo withdraw their declarations.
The demand by the two attorneys included onerous threats.
Ms. Lopez stated in a declaration to the Attorney General, “when the City Council and the City Attorney Mr. Eduardo Olivo (my attorney at that time), learned of my signed statement and that of Argumedo’s, Mr. Olivo and members of the City Council, including Ms. Baca del Rio, threatened both Argumedo and myself with complaints to authorities that would result in criminal prosecution.”
“They also threatened us and said that we would lose our homes,” said Lopez.
Lopez retracted her statement, with Olivo and Pierce submitting Lopez’ retraction in opposition.
Despite the threats, Argumedo refused to do retract his statements.
Olivo and Pierce indicated it was the Council that refused to approve the agreement, once again contrary to the city clerk notes, Baca del Rio’s testimony, and Argumedo’s declaration.
Then Pierce, on behalf of the City of Commerce, prepared a legal memorandum referring Argumedo and Leal to the Grand Jury and requesting an investigation.
Baca del Rio, who was mayor at the time, sent the cover letter to the D.A.’s office.
Based on documents provided by Olivo, Pierce, and Baca del Rio, the D.A., without all of the facts, opened an investigation on Argumedo.
Within a few months, the D.A. filed felony perjury charges against Argumedo.
To avoid the expenses and uncertainty of trial, Argumedo was compelled to accept a misdemeanor in a plea agreement.
He was placed on probation for three years and was forced to resign his Commerce City Council seat.
In May 2015, two years after the end of his three-year probation, Argumedo ran for city council.
Argumedo won, garnering the most votes of any candidate.
But the power hungry Baca del Rio, Altamirano, Rebollo, and Leon would have none of that.
The City and its attorneys immediately filed the Quo Warranto action against Argumedo seeking his ouster once again.
The complaint stated that a person is disqualified from holding elected office “forever upon any conviction of designated crimes.”
After the presentation of evidence and several legal maneuvers by both sides, Judge Johnson handed down his ruling.
That is when Johnson slammed the City and Olivo.
“The City contends it has proven that Argumedo engaged in morally corrupt or dishonest conduct that constitutes malfeasance in office through the elements of the crime, the records of the criminal proceeding, and the evidence presented at trial.”
“The Court has examined each of these areas, and it has concluded that the City has not established morally corrupt or dishonest conduct by Argumedo.”
The judge did find Argumedo “careless and inattentive” but did not find him guilty of any criminal conduct.
Further, the court found that, “the parties had settled the case, as shown by the court’s minute orders and Leal’s testimony.”
“Olivo and Ramos had expressly agreed to present the settlement as a completed agreement that they recommended. But Olivo and Ramos did not do so.”
Johnson finished, “the Supreme Court has established a high burden of proof for quo warranto relief, requiring proof without ambiguities. The court has carefully reviewed the records and evidence provided by the parties, and has found that the city has not sustained this burden of proof (against Argumedo).
“Defendant Argumedo is entitled to judgment in his favor and against the city of Commerce.”
A Senior Assistant Attorney General who wanted to remain anonymous told HMH-CN, “the reason that Quo Warranto requires the Attorney General’s leave is to prevent frivolous prosecutions. The rule is inflexible; perjury may be brought if any material allegation (in the action) is false.”
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