A judge says she is inclined to issue a court order preventing arbitration from moving forward in a law firm’s compensation request for representing Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva in his failed attempt to reinstate a deputy fired over domestic violence allegations.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Holly J. Fujie issued a tentative ruling Friday granting Los Angeles County’s request for a preliminary injunction staying the arbitration, that began with the selection of a panel in December, until a decision is made on whether Villanueva’s retention of Quinn, Emanuel, Urquhart & Sullivan LLP created a valid contract between the county and the law firm.

Villanueva’s support of former Deputy Caren Carl Mandoyan angered members of the Board of Supervisors, and the county filed a petition in March 2018 seeking to have Mandoyan’s rehiring declared void. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff ruled in favor of the county in September 2020.

The county brought the current complaint on Nov. 16, asking a judge to find that the firm did not have a contract with the county for its representation of Villanueva.

“(The county) argues that forcing them to arbitrate (the law firm’s ) claims will cause irreparable harm because of the time and resources spent defending against claims brought under a void contract,” the judge wrote. “(The county) argues that this harm is exacerbated for government entities because arbitration proceedings pursuant to an unlawful contract wrest power from the (Board of Supervisors).”

Fujie further says she finds the county’s arguments concerning irreparable harm persuasive and that the county’s concerns outweigh the law firm’s worries about the necessity of arbitrating its claims.

Fujie is scheduled to hear arguments Monday before issuing a final ruling.

In a recent sworn declaration, Villanueva says he was told by the County Counsel’s Office in a Feb. 28, 2019, letter that he was permitted to seek independent counsel in the Mandoyan case. He retained Quinn Emanuel the next month.

“Although I had not been informed that the Board (of Supervisors) and County Counsel were planning on suing me and LASD, pursuant to the authorization in the Feb. 28 letter I engaged Quinn, Emanuel,” Villanueva says.

The sheriff further said he rejects the alleged claims that his hiring of Quinn, Emanuel was illegal, invalid and unenforceable, reasons the county has given for not paying the firm.

Quinn Emanuel left the case in January 2020 and Stanley Friedman became Villanueva’s new lawyer.

Mandoyan, who worked on Villanueva’s campaign and served as his personal driver, was fired in 2016 following allegations of domestic violence, stalking and harassment of a woman he dated. According to an Office of Inspector General report, the sheriff’s department also found that Mandoyan lied to Internal Affairs investigators.

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