2.18.2008

McK Press - Falor Accuses County of Grand Jury Meddling

By Daniel Mintz - Press Staff Writer - 2/19/08

One of the thorniest situations in county government has gotten more so, as former County Counsel Tamara Falor is alleging that Grand Jury investigations into her resignation and $289,000 damage claim settlement have been manipulated by county employees and officials.

Falor filed another claim against the county on Dec. 24 that asserts she had suffered damage to her reputation, violation of her privacy rights, negligent and intentional emotional distress, defamation and other injuries. A damage payment amount isn't specified.

The claim was rejected by the county because it was not filed within six months of the alleged offenses. An application to file a late claim, received Feb. 1, was denied by the county on Feb. 7. If Falor decides to press her allegations, she can do so through a lawsuit.

The crux of Falor's claim is that a June 2007 Grand Jury report on its investigation into the controversial settlement was intentionally led astray by county officials - including current County Counsel Wendy Chaitin. The claim describes Chaitin as someone who "had an involvement" in the situation that led to Falor's "separation" from county work. And Falor's claim states that this year's Grand Jury - which is completing the investigation - submitted a letter of recommendation supporting Chaitin's "quest to be appointed as county counsel." Sources say the letter exists and was submitted to the Board of Supervisors in late November.

Falor also alleges that the Grand Jury was improperly given advice by members of the County Counsel's Office. "These members have conflicts of interest in this matter, some of which may rise to the level of a pecuniary (personal or financial) interest," the claim states.

The application to file a late claim attributes advice - and a pecuniary interest - to "a county legal representative having involvement in the matter." The Grand Jury was advised that Falor was "not able or willing to testify" and that "the statement the Grand Jury published was not defamatory," according to the claim, which also alleges that the representative "signed off" on the Grand Jury report.

Matt Morehouse, the foreman pro tem of last year's Grand Jury and the foreman of this year's, said no one from the County Counsel's Office has given advice. "The County Counsel's Office at all times refrained from commenting on anything to do with the Falor case - and they still do," he said.

Asked who had legally advised the Grand Jury, Morehouse said it "received no legal advice on this matter." He declined comment when asked if this year's Grand Jury is being advised.

Morehouse declined comment on other aspects of the claim.

The claim also refers to pre-settlement circumstances. It states that Falor "is informed and believes" that one or more county officials "used their positions" to obtain the unsigned settlement agreement and "then disclosed that information." In a letter sent to the county's outside attorney last December, Falor's former lawyer, Wendy Wyse, said that the unsigned settlement document was released to a deputy county counsel. County officials have said that the counsel's office was not involved in the settlement dealings or the Grand Jury probes.

Names of people listed as being responsible for Falor's injuries include Chaitin, former Interim County Counsel Ralph Faust, "certain employees of the County Counsel's Office" and supervisors John Woolley, Bonnie Neely and Jimmy Smith. All three supervisors had voted to appoint Chaitin, who is considered an interim counsel but will be evaluated for permanent appointment.

The claim lists "other county employees and representatives who published and/or released information about Ms. Falor in violation of her rights" as well. Also included are members of the 2006-07 Grand Jury, and the "county employees which led the members... to publish defamatory information about Ms. Falor."

Tainted findings?

Last year's Grand Jury concluded that supervisors approvedthesettlement "secretly and quickly," and "there was considerable written evidence and oral testimony to the effect that Ms. Falor's job performance had been less than satisfactory for several years."

The Grand Jury report also asked why Falor wasn't fired and whether her job performance had been adequately evaluated. The unfinished investigation was handed off to this year's Grand Jury - and Falor has given testimony. But her application to file a late claim outlines alleged problems with the follow-up process, including the Chaitin recommendation letter.

The claim also states that a letter was sent by the current Grand Jury to the Board of Supervisors, informing that one witness - which would be Falor - had testified and "if the board persisted in not testifying, a one-sided report would issue." The claim objects that "no similar letter was sent to claimant before the 2006-2007 Grand Jury issued a one-sided publication from an incomplete investigation that was defamatory to the claimant."

It also gets more specific on some aspects of last year's probe, saying that "defamation and violation of (Falor's) right to privacy were perpetrated by two members of the County Counsel staff, through their testimony to the Grand Jury."

According to the 2006-07 Grand Jury report, testimony was given by the two unnamed county counsel staffers, all five members of the Board of Supervisors and "three other county officials." The report states that "no supervisor or anyone else with detailed knowledge of this incident would reveal the exact reason Ms. Falor was awarded $289,000."

But the claim asserts that one or more members of the Board of Supervisors had "off the record" contact with one or more members of the Grand Jury to talk about "the substance of the matter involving (Falor)."

Responding to the county's assertion that the Dec. 24 claim was untimely, the late claim application states that "It is not reasonable to expect the claimant could have anticipated that county legal representatives would have exerted such extraordinary influence on the Grand Jury process."

Escalating division

The contents of the recent documents likely relate to the situation that led to the controversial settlement.

Falor's absence from her post near the start of 2006 provoked lots of speculation. Sources say management/staff tension within the Counsel's Office had intensified and a letter complaining about Falor was signed by most of the members of the office's staff, including Chaitin.

Sources say the staff complaints were brought to the attention of Supervisor John Woolley during a meeting with him and that the complaint letter was submitted to the Board of Supervisors. And eventually, the county sought outside legal advice on how to fire Falor. Related billing by a Los Angeles law firm began Jan. 3, 2006.

But Falor also took action. By the end of January, the county had received her claim for damages related to things that happened between Nov. 6, 2006 and Jan. 7, 2007. The nature of the claim wasn't specified. Instead, it cited the six general categories open to damage claims, which include defamation,discrimination, harassment, breach of contract and wrongful termination. The claim cited $290,000 as a "minimum" damage amount.

A final agreement on the settlement - and the acceptance of Falor's resignation - was approved by a majority of the Board of Supervisors (Supervisors Jill Geist and Jimmy Smith voted against it) in closed session on March 13, 2006. It concluded a series of Falor-related closed session meetings that began in early January of that year.

Chaitin and County Administrative Officer Loretta Nickolaus both said that that the County Counsel's Office has not advised either the former or current Grand Jury, or supervisors, on the Falor matter. Many of the parties listed in the recent claim were contacted but declined comment.