September 25, 2014

O'Connor Exposes SM Taxpayers to Major Damages Over Firing of Elizabeth Riel

Dear Supporter of SMCLC,

In a significant victory for residents' First Amendment rights and a rebuke to Mayor Pam O'Connor and City Manager Rod Gould, a federal judge in Los Angeles just ruled that Elizabeth Riel's case against the City and Gould may proceed toward trial.

Elizabeth was summarily dismissed from a city position after Mayor O'Connor intervened, improperly -- and in violation of Santa Monica and state law -- to pressure Mr. Gould to fire her.

Ms. O'Connor was retaliating because eight years ago, Elizabeth had donated to a SMCLC mailer which called attention to Ms. O'Connor having accepted campaign contributions from 13 Macerich Company executives before an impending Council vote on their development project. Elizabeth also wrote an article critical of the City's failure to release public documents about the development project.

We know Ms. O'Connor interfered in Elizabeth's appointment, and that it was personal, because she admitted it to the SM Daily Press.

Ms. O'Connor's petty payback to Elizabeth has now exposed the City and its taxpayers to potentially significant financial damages, including paying for Elizabeth's legal fees as well as for punitive damages.

The Court stated that "[Elizabeth's] speech sought to expose the public to potentially illegal activities" [by O'Connor and the City]. And, if there is any doubt that O'Connor and Gould could have reasonably thought their conduct in firing Elizabeth was OK, the Court found that "a reasonable person would have understood [Elizabeth Riel's] termination was unconstitutional."

The Court concluded that "Because [the City and Gould] offer no justification for [Elizabeth's] termination independent from her protected speech, the Court finds...[Elizabeth] sets forth valid claims for First Amendment retaliation against both the City and Gould."

Indisputably, Santa Monica lost the most highly qualified candidate for the job. Elizabeth was hired over 220 other applicants after many rounds of interviews. She was only fired after Pam O'Connor interfered. She was then vilified by the City, as though the entire sordid episode was her fault. This was Santa Monica politics at its worst.

SMCLC is very pleased that Elizabeth's lawsuit to vindicate her rights is moving forward. You can be sure that you will hear more from us in this very important election season.

Best, Victor, Diana, Sherrill, Jeff