By Alene Tchekmedyian, LA Times – October 5, 2020 – A judge has ruled that Sheriff Alex Villanueva exceeded his authority when he rehired a fired deputy as part of a settlement agreement that sparked a bitter legal fight between Los Angeles County’s top elected leaders.
In a 17-page ruling last week, Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff said the settlement, in which the sheriff had offered Caren Carl Mandoyan full back pay and benefits worth more than $200,000, was void because it wasn’t approved by the Board of Supervisors.
“No statute grants the Sheriff the authority to control litigation or enter into settlement agreements on behalf of the County,” Beckloff wrote.
Later in the ruling, he wrote: “Mandoyan was not rehired from a properly certified eligibility list in December 2018. Accordingly, the Sheriff’s action to rehire Mandoyan was unlawful.”
Skip Miller, an attorney representing L.A. County, said the judge’s ruling is “the right decision under the law.”
“This person does not belong in the Sheriff’s Department. We’re pleased with the ruling and that it’s the end of this case,” Miller said in a statement.
Lt. John Satterfield, a Sheriff’s Department spokesman, said it would be premature to comment “as no judgment has been entered and the defendants are waiting for plaintiff to serve its proposed judgment.”
“The facts stated in the court’s ruling … are based on the unique facts in regard to Carl Mandoyan and whether, and under what circumstances, he may be included in a certified eligibility list. All parties are presently reviewing the court’s ruling,” he said.
Greg Smith, an attorney representing Mandoyan, said he was disappointed by the decision and plans to appeal.
“We think that we will ultimately prevail at the appellate court level,” Smith said. He also noted that Mandoyan also has a separate pending lawsuit in which he requests that a judge order Villanueva to conduct a new investigation into the domestic violence allegations against him and to reinstate him.
In that suit, Mandoyan cited a 100-page Sheriff’s Department report that concludes he was denied due process and that “newly discovered exculpatory information” was left out of his 2016 internal affairs investigation. The report says that if the information had been presented at the time, Mandoyan may not have been fired.
The latest ruling comes after the Board of Supervisors last year took the unusual step of suing Villanueva, arguing Mandoyan’s rehiring was unlawful because the settlement had not been signed by the county’s attorneys or approved by the county’s personnel director.
Beckloff had issued a preliminary injunction, removing Mandoyan and ordering him to turn over his gun and badge, pending trial.
Mandoyan was fired in 2016 by then-Sheriff Jim McDonnell after a fellow deputy he had dated alleged that he grabbed her by the neck, tried to break into her home and sent her harassing text messages. Video footage released in the case appeared to show Mandoyan trying to break into the woman’s apartment using a metal tool.
Mandoyan has denied the allegations. Smith has said his client was just trying to get the woman’s attention and that it would have been impossible for him to break into the apartment through the fixed side of the sliding glass door.
Mandoyan had volunteered as a driver during Villanueva’s 2018 election campaign. Villanueva reinstated him as one of his first moves in office, stoking concerns that the sheriff was rolling back critical reforms.
Villanueva has publicly defended his decision, saying the deputy was denied due process, while raising concerns about his accuser’s credibility. His position prompted complaints from advocates who work with domestic violence victims.