LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles County is suing its former lead attorney, whose wrongful termination lawsuit against the entity was dismissed earlier this year, for allegedly putting his interests ahead of those of his former employer.
The county’s suit against Mark Saladino alleges he publicly disclosed advice he gave the Board of Supervisors and violated his ethical obligations of loyalty and confidentiality to his former client.
The complaint filed Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, as well as reimbursement of costs to the county for defending his wrongful termination suit.
Robert Baker, Saladino’s attorney in his wrongful termination case, could not be immediately reached for comment.
For almost eight months, Saladino was “at the apex of the Office of County Counsel,” the county’s suit states. “The county and board routinely confided in Saladino and sought his input and advice regarding legal matters.”
However, within weeks of his appointment, Saladino approved a memo prepared by a former Los Angeles County CEO that ordered the auditor-controller to pay one of the supervisors a benefit of about $140,000 to which the individual was not entitled under the Los Angeles County Code, the county’s suit alleges. The supervisor’s identity is not disclosed in the county’s complaint.
An outside law firm hired by the board to research the propriety of the action concluded that the memo was illegal, and Saladino was transferred out of his position as County Counsel two days later on June 10, 2015, according to the county’s court papers.
In July 2016, Saladino filed his wrongful termination suit and publicly disclosed attorney-client information, including advice he gave the board, the county’s suit alleges.
“Saladino could have filed the wrongful termination complaint under seal, but for his own self-serving purposes he chose not to. His strategy was to publicly leverage his former client,” the complaint alleges.
In January, Judge Joanne O’Donnell found that Saladino could not support his claims, which also included emotional distress and breach of an employment contract.
Saladino was not fired, but instead transferred to another job, the judge found.
When he signed an agreement with the county to take a job in the Department of Treasurer-Tax Collector, Saladino forfeited the right to make claims related to the transfer, O’Donnell found, adding that Saladino was not forced by economic duress to take the new post. Further, he accepted the benefits of the transfer agreement, O’Donnell said.
Saladino was hired as county counsel in September 2014, by a 4-1 vote of the board, at a salary of $288,915. He previously served as the Los Angeles County Treasurer and Tax Collector for 16 years.
As his County Counsel tenure progressed, Saladino became increasingly concerned about what he believed were actions taken by the board in violation of the state’s open meeting law, according to his court papers.
“Mr. Saladino also learned of the board’s frustration with the (open meeting law’s) requirement that the public be allowed to comment at board meetings,” his suit alleged. “The board members frequently tried to silence speakers whom they found to be offensive …”
Saladino claimed the board often ignored his advice regarding the law. His suit described clashes with various members of the board over legal and ethical issues, but particularly singled out Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who cast the sole dissenting vote against appointing Saladino as lead counsel.
Saladino claimed he was fired for “political reasons.”