The court awards a grand jury prize

A state appeals court on Wednesday overturned $ 1.5 million in compensation for a former Los Angeles attorney who told City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo and other supervisors retaliated against her for filing a sex discrimination complaint and reporting misconduct by other lawyers.

The Los Angeles Court of Appeals concluded that the evidence did not support Lynn Magnandonovan’s claim. The 2-1 decision overturned a 2006 jury decision that also gave Magnandonovan substantial legal fees. His lawyer at the time called the awards “an indictment of the city attorney’s office.”

Instead, the appeals judges painted a much different picture: that of an unprofessional problem employee who was openly hostile to judges, court officials and colleagues.

The appeal decision found that Delgadillo had a legitimate reason for dismissing Magnandonovan in 2002 because she had “behaved in a manner that was totally unacceptable before the judges of the Superior Court”. The decision was drafted by Presiding Judge Paul Turner, with the support of Judge Sandy R. Kriegler.

Specifically, they pointed to an incident in 2001, when Magnandonovan bitterly complained about Court Commissioner Joseph Biderman to his clerk. Magnandonovan, the clerk reported, told her the commissioner would respond to the “creator” after ruling against her when she failed to show up in a probation violation case. Biderman, who is now a Superior Court judge, took the remark as a “veiled reference” to his being gay, and he reported the incident to his superiors.

This incident alone was a “legitimate, non-discriminatory reason” for dismissing Magnandonovan, the appeals court said.

Delgadillo welcomed the decision on Wednesday, saying it affirmed its ability to maintain a staff “committed to justice and the highest ideals of the legal profession.”

“Today, the Court of Appeal recognized that it is necessary for my office to take appropriate action in the fortunately rare cases when a member of our staff does not meet the high standards our residents deserve,” he said in a statement.

Magnandonovan’s attorney, William N. Hancock, said Wednesday he was shocked. The court, he said, essentially replaced the jury’s interpretation of the evidence with its own.

“Normally appellate courts don’t challenge juries this way,” Hancock said.

But he noted that the appeals court rejected the city’s arguments that it was immune from any liability in the case and that Magnandonovan should have appealed its dismissal through administrative channels before bringing a claim. lawsuit. Hancock said no decision has been made on whether to appeal the decision to the California Supreme Court.

In his dissent, Judge Richard M. Mosk said there appeared to be “substantial evidence” to support the jury’s conclusion that Magnandonovan’s reprisal complaint was valid.

He also noted that during the trial Magnandonovan countered much of the evidence that she was hostile towards the judges with plausible explanations. She also testified that she was unaware that Biderman was gay and that her comment did not refer to his homosexuality.

“There was enough evidence on file for the jury to infer that the misconduct was not as serious or outrageous as the city described it,” Mosk said.

Magnandonovan had worked for the city attorney’s office for 13 years. In her trial, she said supervisors retaliated against her for filing a discrimination complaint against the state and allowed “an environment that is offensive and hostile to women.”

Magnandonovan said that in 1999, when James K. Hahn was the city attorney, a colleague accused her of “speaking badly” about the woman’s handling of a felony case which was eventually taken over by the government. US Attorney’s Office. The woman threatened Magnandonovan “professionally,” the lawsuit said.

Magnandonovan said when she reported the incident to her supervisors, nothing was done. She felt it was a sign that her male supervisors perceived the alleged threats “as some kind of ‘cat fight’ between women and, therefore, relatively unimportant,” her lawsuit said.

Magnandonovan filed a sex discrimination complaint with the State Department for Fair Employment and Housing, and a deal was reached in which Hahn agreed to appoint her supervisor of the prosecutor’s hate crimes unit. from the city. After taking the post, Magnandonovan said she suffered retaliation from her supervisors, who did not invite her to meetings of the Hate Crimes Working Group or consult with her on the legislation proposed by the hate crimes office.

In December 2001, Magnandonovan’s supervisors put her on administrative leave after investigating the incident involving Biderman. During this investigation, officials from the city attorney’s office also interrogated judges, court staff and colleagues who accused her of being caustic and humiliating.

During the trial, then deputy head of the city Atty. Terree Bowers testified that because of this evidence, he felt that she should be terminated.

“I thought she was not trustworthy. . . and I thought it was damaging the credibility of the office by its continued practice in Superior Court, ”said Bowers.

phil.willon@latimes.com

About Jessica J. Bass

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