@The Guss Report — The City of Los Angeles has a history of losing anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) lawsuits when it has illegally tried to silence critics with threats of unjust criminal charges and physical intimidation.
It appears that it may be hit with another anti-SLAPP suit in the coming days for its actions last week. This could cost the taxpayers millions of dollars in civil damages and L.A. City Atty. Mike Feuer a headache with the California Bar Assn.
Outside a Canoga Park town hall meeting last Thursday where speakers included Mr. Feuer and state Assemblyman Matt Dababneh, a pack of nearly 20 LAPD and California Highway Patrol officers descended upon the parking lot. They allegedly drew and aimed high-powered semi-automatic guns at a man sitting in his vehicle talking calmly on his phone.
(Note: I was on the other end of that phone call, interviewing the man for what was supposed to be today’s article, and heard the encounter from its first moment.)
Law enforcement’s guns were allegedly trained on Wayne Spindler, the controversial attorney embroiled in a year-long, two-way legal battle with the City of Los Angeles. He was at the meeting a half-hour earlier complaining about difficulty registering guns on a state website which is not presently functional.
After ordering Mr. Spindler from his parked vehicle, law enforcement officers instructed him to lie on the pavement where he was cuffed, patted down, and had his vehicle searched while he was interrogated.
Then Mr. Spindler was let go.
“They eventually admitted it was a false alarm,” Mr. Spindler told me by phone after the incident, “but they didn’t apologize. This was an unprovoked threat against my life that I had better drop my civil rights lawsuits against the city … or else.”
The story started 24 hours earlier when Mr. Feuer’s primary spokesman, Mike Wilcox, planted a story in the L..A Times that reporter Emily Alpert Reyes apparently failed to confirm with the court website.
Ms. Reyes’ article entitled, “L.A. City Hall Critic Faces Charge of Possessing an Assault Weapon,” says, “Spindler was charged with a misdemeanor and is scheduled to be arraigned in April, Wilcox said.”
Note the words: “was charged” and “is scheduled,” both untrue according to the L.A. courts website at the time of the article’s publishing. This is a snapshot from its website taken on Sunday morning, showing no such charge in the system five days after Ms. Reyes’ article was published. If the case isn’t in the system, it has not been filed, a court employee confirmed for me.
Mr. Wilcox made the same claim in written form to other members of the media, which was eventually shared and wound up on the websites of KTLA, L.A. Daily News, City News Service and others who didn’t check its accuracy against the court website.
I reached out multiple times to no avail to Mr. Wilcox, who has been incommunicado with me since last year when I exposed Dep. City Atty. Hugo Rossitter as running two side businesses in conflict with his city employment, and for his failure to pay business taxes to the cities of Los Angeles and Beverly Hills. I also got no response from Mr. Feuer’s executive assistant or his chief of staff.
I then emailed Ms. Reyes to determine whether Wilcox tipped her off on a case that was not on the court website and that the defendant knew nothing about, and what is the Times’ policy for verifying what anyone, including a government official, claims?
Ms. Reyes refused to answer, deferring my inquiry (at the direction of her editors Shelby Grad and Steve Clow) to Hillary Manning, the Times’ Communications Director, who repeatedly deflected.
“We do not have a comment on this, as it relates to the details of our newsgathering,” Ms. Manning wrote.
When advised that Ms. Reyes’ story was factually wrong, Ms. Manning asked what about it was incorrect. I told her that my position, too, then, is to not disclose the details of my newsgathering, but that they may wish to confirm its accuracy, which was also suggested to Ms. Reyes.
Neither the Times nor Ms. Reyes apparently did that though. Her article remained published in its original form on the Times’ website in direct conflict with the L.A. court website, five days after it was published.
This turmoil all started nearly a year ago when Mr. Spindler submitted an L.A. City Council speaker card with racially antagonistic words and imagery to City Council president Herb Wesson, who is black, and who felt Mr. Spindler’s content was threatening. While the city obtained a temporary restraining order (TRO) against Mr. Spindler, which he is appealing, the California Bar Assn. refused to take action against him, citing his content as free speech and that it did not constitute a threat.
The TRO against Mr. Spindler required him to turn in all firearms he owned, which he did in May 2016. His AK-47 was unregistered but, he says, it was grandfathered because it was purchased prior to the 1991 law requiring registration. “As an officer of the court, even though the gun was legally not in the state’s registry, I turned it in for voluntary destruction along with my other guns because that is what I was ordered to do.”
Mr. Spindler provided me with a dated copy of the receipt for the gun’s purchase which, he says, was provided to the LAPD when he turned it in. The date of purchase was Jan. 25, 1989, long before the 1991 law. (I cropped the receipt to not expose Spindler’s personal information on it.)
That raises the question, if possession of the gun is a misdemeanor, as Mr. Feuer now claims, why was Mr. Spindler not arrested on the spot and charged with a crime when he turned it in in May 2016?
What has transpired between then and now, since the possession was not illegal?
The answer is Mr. Spindler’s civil lawsuits against the city, and his appeal of the TRO, that’s what.
And why would anyone be charged with a misdemeanor when the state recently launched a program allowing people to register guns without repercussions for not doing so earlier?
In our phone interview right before the LAPD and CHP surrounded his vehicle with guns drawn, Mr. Spindler told me, “If they’re going to try to prosecute me for that, which I am confident I will win, they had better be prepared to charge everyone else in L.A. in the same predicament.”
At a recent settlement meeting with attorneys representing the city, Mr. Spindler says they encouraged him to hold off serving the city with his second civil suit (against Mr. Wesson,) allegedly and ominously telling him they “would see what we can do about this.”
Mr. Spindler claims that Mr. Feuer’s office planted the fake L.A. Times story on Wednesday and “threatened his life” on Thursday to induce a quid pro quo to drop his civil lawsuits and his TRO appeal in exchange for their dropping what he says is a baseless misdemeanor charge.
He adds that Mr. Feuer violated the State Bar’s Ethics Rule 5-100, which states that a prosecutor can’t threaten criminal charges in order to get an advantage in a civil lawsuit; Rule 5-110, that they can’t threaten charges that don’t stand up to probable cause standards; and 5-120, that Mr. Wilcox’s extrajudicial statements to the media were done to bias a potential jury pool.
Mr. Spindler says he will sue to get the recorded 911 call, if one was actually made, and phone records of everyone who accompanied Messrs. Feuer and Dababneh to the town hall to establish what threat they claim he posed, and whether, if they felt he did pose a threat, the meeting hall doors were locked and the building evacuated from the other side.
That is what you would do … if you feel someone posed a threat requiring such a heavy-handed law enforcement response.
Mr. Guss, MBA, is a member of the Los Angeles Press Club, and has contributed to CityWatch, KFI AM-640, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News, Los Angeles Magazine, Movieline Magazine, Emmy Magazine, Los Angeles Business Journal and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @TheGussReport. .