Prominent L.A. attorney accused of misleading judge in DWP scandal

This Wednesday, March 18, 2015 photo shows the front of the headquarters of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power in downtown Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power lost up to $88 million in commercial billings because of the botched rollout of a computer billing system. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)
An attorney who represents L.A. Department of Water and Power customers is being targeted in a State Bar complaint. (Associated Press)

When the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power faced an onslaught of litigation over a faulty billing system, city officials and attorneys representing the utility’s customers joined forces to orchestrate a secret sue-and-settle scheme.

After accusations about the collusive $67-million settlement emerged, the Los Angeles County Superior Court judge overseeing the case had to appoint another attorney in 2019 to represent the DWP customers.

Several lawyers vied for the high-profile appointment, which would pay millions of dollars in legal fees. The judge ultimately selected Brian Kabateck, a former president of the L.A. County Bar Assn. and a prominent attorney known for representing consumers in class-action lawsuits.

But now, Kabateck has been accused of misleading the judge in order to secure the coveted court-appointed role.

In a 56-page complaint recently filed with the State Bar of California, Paul Paradis — a former attorney who was a part of the collusive lawsuit scheme before becoming a covert government witness in the corruption investigation — accused Kabateck of lying to the judge, among other ethical breaches.

Read more: Questions, anger after feds signal an end to DWP billing probe

Paradis’ claims center on ties between Kabateck and former L.A. City Atty. Mike Feuer.

To secure the appointment, Kabateck had told L.A. County Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle, “I have no legal, business, financial, professional or personal relationship with Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer.”

But Kabateck’s former law partner, Richard Kellner, helped co-sponsor an event for Feuer’s political campaign in 2013 and made subsequent donations to his campaign.

When the political donations became a source of controversy in 2019, Kabateck assured Berle, who has overseen the DWP case, “Mr. Kellner is no longer a partner in my firm and has not been a partner since December 31, 2012.”

In his complaint filed last month, Paradis said Kabateck’s law firm registration records indicate that Kabateck and Kellner remained law partners at least until August 2015, contradicting what he told the judge.

“The fact that Kabateck and Kellner continued their business entanglement for several years after they both falsely claimed Kellner had separated his law practice from Kabateck on December 31, 2012 is indisputable and extremely well documented,” Paradis said in his complaint.

He also highlighted numerous federal and state court cases filed by Kabateck's firm between 2013 and 2021 involving Kellner, including a 2017 case in which Kellner identified himself as Kabateck's law partner.

Kabateck, who is also chair of Loyola Law School’s governing board, called the complaint a “joke” in an email to The Times. Kellner didn't respond to a request for comment.

Paradis’ complaint is not public but was reviewed by The Times. Some of its other allegations had previously been raised in 2019 but were dismissed by Berle at the time. The law firm registration records, however, did not appear to have been previously raised to the judge.

For Paradis, the complaint comes at a momentous point in his criminal case.

He has pleaded guilty to bribery and is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday. Federal prosecutors have asked for an 18-month prison sentence, while Paradis’ lawyers have argued for leniency based on his extensive undercover recordings and, more recently, his assistance to the State Bar.

His sentencing has been repeatedly delayed. Prosecutors for the State Bar have asked that Paradis remain available to help the agency as it investigates multiple lawyers connected to the DWP scandal.

In his complaint, Paradis accuses Kabateck of aiding the cover-up of the DWP scandal by not “aggressively pursuing the city” or its lawyers who Paradis alleges perpetrated the collusive lawsuit scheme.

Kabateck’s law firm has been paid more than $5 million from the city for his work representing DWP customers in the class-action lawsuit, according to the court documents. In September, he said he planned to seek additional reimbursements from the city for his legal fees.

The State Bar in September 2022 announced it was investigating Kabateck and attorney Mark Geragos in connection with the disbursal of Armenian genocide insurance settlement funds after a Times investigation that documented problems with allocations of the funds.

Representatives for Geragos and Kabateck denied wrongdoing in that case, and the current status of the bar’s inquiry is unclear.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.