Two months ago, federal prosecutors announced that a former high-level lawyer in Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer’s office took part in an extortion scheme stemming from the Department of Water and Power billing debacle.
Now, another lawyer — who has pleaded guilty for his role in the DWP scandal — has filed a complaint with the California State Bar, alleging that Feuer knew about the extortion scheme and perjured himself during a 2019 deposition. Feuer denies the allegations.
The State Bar complaint by attorney Paul Paradis marks the first time an individual implicated by federal prosecutors in the DWP corruption case has alleged that Feuer knew of the unethical and illegal actions carried out by attorneys working for him.
Paradis’ complaint requests “that the State Bar conduct an investigation of Feuer’s conduct to determine if Feuer should be disbarred.”
“Paradis’ assertions are absurd and nothing more than a malicious attempt by a confessed felon to deflect attention from his own criminal misconduct,” said Feuer spokesman Rob Wilcox. “Of course, the city attorney was never aware of any such threat.”
Paradis, who is awaiting sentencing, declined an interview request. State Bar complaints are confidential, but Paradis’ complaint became public after it was filed in his ongoing bankruptcy case in Arizona. The city has filed a claim against Paradis in the case.
Feuer, a candidate for mayor, has said he was unaware of the schemes hatched by attorneys working for him, which began after a faulty DWP billing system sent erroneous charges to thousands of customers in 2013.
With the utility facing multiple class-action lawsuits, the city’s legal team sought out a lawyer to file a class-action lawsuit against the city, so a settlement could be quickly engineered, prosecutors say.
The city’s plan was endangered, however, when a woman threatened to go public with the city’s handling of the DWP lawsuit unless she received more than $1 million from her former employer, prosecutors said.
The woman formerly worked for Beverly Hills lawyer Paul Kiesel. Kiesel, along with Paradis, had been hired by Feuer’s office to help with the billing litigation.
Thomas Peters, the former high-level attorney who worked for Feuer, threatened to fire Kiesel unless Kiesel paid off the woman, according to Peters’ own plea agreement.
In his plea agreement, Peters said he feared that if the employee went public with those documents, she would show that the settlement negotiations between the DWP and its ratepayers were not the “adversarial proceeding” that they were supposed to be, which would in turn jeopardize the city’s $67-million settlement and damage the reputation of Feuer’s office.
At one point, Kiesel took part in a “failed mediation” at the DWP cafeteria with his former employee, who lowered her demand to $900,000, Peters’ agreement says. Kiesel responded with a counteroffer of $60,000, which was not accepted, the agreement says.
Paradis, in his State Bar complaint filed in February, contends that based on his communications with Peters, Feuer knew of the extortion threat. Feuer is one of the unnamed senior officials referenced in Peters’ plea agreement who aided the extortion, Paradis’ complaint alleges.
Peters’ agreement said he met with unnamed “senior officials” in the city attorney’s office on Dec. 1, 2017, to discuss the extortion threat, where he was directed to take care of the situation, according to his plea agreement.
After the meeting, Peters told Paradis in a text message that night that senior leadership at the city attorney’s office was “not firing anyone at this point,” meaning that neither Kiesel nor Paradis would lose his job as outside counsel over the matter.
But Peters warned that others were concerned about “the prospect of a sideshow” if the employee’s threats weren’t handled, according to his plea agreement.
Paradis, in his complaint with the State Bar, alleges that Peters’ text to him makes clear that one of the senior members Peters referenced in his plea agreement is Feuer.
“Mike is not firing anyone at this point. But he is far from happy about the prospect of a sideshow. Also, mediating Paul’s matter at DWP, not a popular move,” the text said, according to Paradis’ complaint.
Paradis’ complaint also states that Peters relayed to him and to Kiesel at a November 2017 meeting that Feuer was unhappy about the extortion threat. During a January 2019 phone call with Paradis and Kiesel, Peters said he had discussed the collusive lawsuit with Feuer, according to Paradis’ complaint.
Feuer, in deposition testimony taken in August 2019 — in a separate lawsuit stemming from the DWP billing debacle — said he didn’t know about the collusive lawsuit.
The complaint accuses Feuer of violating various California Rules of Professional Conduct by making false statements and by directing Peters to carry out the extortion scheme.
“The city attorney has never heard of this woman who apparently worked for Mr. Kiesel and has no recollection of being made aware of a complaint by her” to anyone in the city attorney’s office, said Wilcox, the spokesman for Feuer.
Wilcox also said Feuer “knew nothing about the extortion threat and the [Dec. 1, 2017] text does not purport that he did.”
Peters’ attorney, Jeff Rutherford, declined to comment on Paradis’ complaint. “Mr. Peters is fully cooperating with the authorities,” Rutherford said.
Kiesel hasn’t been charged in the case. He confirmed last week to The Times that he took part in at a meeting at the city attorney’s office in November 2017, but said he had no recollection of Peters referencing Feuer. He also said he doesn’t recall the January 2019 phone call.