A law firm that temporarily represented Sheriff Alex Villanueva in his failed attempt to reinstate a deputy fired over domestic violence allegations should not be able to arbitrate its claims for compensation, Los Angeles County argued in a new lawsuit.
The county brought the complaint this week in Los Angeles Superior Court against Quinn, Emanuel, Urquhart & Sullivan LLP, asking that a judge find that the firm did not have a contract with the county for its representation of Villanueva. The suit comes less than a month after the law firm served the county with an arbitration demand on Oct. 29, according to the suit.
“Quinn claims that it is entitled to compensation for unpaid fees and costs that it incurred in 2019 for representing the sheriff in a matter in which it repeatedly refused to sign a valid engagement agreement with the county as required by law,” the suit states. “Instead of contracting with the county, Quinn represented the sheriff for over nine months without a valid retainer agreement.”
Villanueva’s efforts on behalf of former Deputy Caren Carl Mandoyan outraged members of the County Board of Supervisors, who filed a petition in March 2018 seeking to have Mandoyan’s rehiring declared void. Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff ruled in favor of the county in September 2020.
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.
A representative for Quinn Emanuel issued a statement Thursday regarding the complaint.
“Quinn Emanuel was engaged by the sheriff and LASD as independent counsel pursuant to written authorization by the Board of Supervisors and County Counsel,” the statement read. “Unfortunately, even though the firm’s bills were reviewed and approved for payment, the county refused to honor its authorization and pay the fees and costs incurred defending the sheriff and LASD. The firm is pursuing the matter in arbitration as expressly provided in the signed engagement agreement.”
But according to the county’s suit, Quinn Emanuel represented Villanueva despite an order from then-Presiding Judge Kevin C. Brazile that the firm could not receive county funds without a contract. Although Villanueva and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department are also plaintiffs in the suit, the complaint states that the sheriff hired the firm in March 2019 without permission.
“Because the sheriff had no authority to contract for legal services, this contract was void, unenforceable and without authority of law,” the suit states.
Villanueva repeatedly defended bringing Mandoyan back to the department, questioning the allegations against the deputy and accusing the county’s Civil Service Commission of ignoring evidence that could have cleared him of wrongdoing.