The Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office is conducting a review of its handing of litigation surrounding the Department of Water and Power’s overbillling scandal after it was revealed that outside counsel retained by the city in the case may have had a conflict of interest, City Attorney Mike Feuer said Wednesday.
The review includes ongoing consultations with Ellen Pansky, an ethics expert, that have been taking place since last month, Feuer said.
“My office adheres to the highest standards of legal ethics,” Feuer said. “I take any allegation of improper conduct by any attorney under our authority — including outside counsel — extremely seriously. The chips will fall where they fall, and I will take decisive action if this review reveals any breach of ethics.”
The issues stem from a class action settlement finalized in 2017, with at least $67.5 million refunded to Department of Water and Power customers inaccurately billed following an upgrade of the utility’s billing system.
The lead plaintiff in the billing case, Antwon Jones, testified last month in a deposition that in 2014 he retained Paul Paradis to represent him in the case, and that he has considered Paradis to be representing him on the case ever since.
Paradis had also been outside counsel for the city and LADWP in a case against Pricewaterhousecoopers, in which the city alleges PWC is responsible for many of the billing problems.
A lawyer for Paradis, David Scheper, did not immediately respond to a request to comment.
“The city attorney was never apprised that outside counsel may concurrently have been representing Mr. Jones on a possible matter against LADWP at the same time outside counsel was representing LADWP (in its case against PWC) if in fact that was true,” Feuer spokesman Rob Wilcox said.
“Nor, to the best of the city attorney’s knowledge, was any member of the city attorney’s staff ever previously apprised of this possibility. To the contrary, Mr. Paradis has consistently told city attorney staff this is not the case.”
Wilcox added, “City attorney staff was aware that Mr. Jones had been a client of outside counsel — for the purpose of potentially suing PWC.”
PricewaterhouseCoopers alleged in court records that Paradis’ actions are a conflict of interest and that Paradis and the city worked together to select the plaintiff and the attorney who handled the class-action billing lawsuit in an effort to get a more favorable settlement for the DWP, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Feuer said that as of this week, outside counsel Paradis and Paul Kiesel are no longer participating in the city’s lawsuit against PWC.
As part of the LADWP billing case, Jones v. Los Angeles, LADWP was required to fix the problems with its billing system, a process that is ongoing and has been done with Paradis playing a key role.
A company Paradis operates, Aventador Utility Solutions, was granted a no-bid, $30-million contract in 2017 to do remediation work on the system, and his company was paid more than $20 million before the DWP board voted Tuesday to cancel the agreement, The Times reported.