@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, and it could cost the taxpayers millions of dollars in civil damages and LA City Attorney Mike Feuer a headache with the California Bar Association.
Outside a Canoga Park town hall meeting last Thursday where speakers included Feuer and California State Assemblyman Matt Dababneh, a pack of nearly 20 LAPD and California Highway Patrol officers descended upon the parking lot and 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 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 Spindler was let go.
“They eventually admitted it was a false alarm,” 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 Feuer’s primary spokesman, Mike Wilcox, planted a story in the LA Times that reporter Emily Alpert Reyes apparently failed to confirm with the court website.
Reyes’ article entitled, LA 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 LA 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 Reyes’ article was published. If the case isn’t in the system, it has not been filed, a court employee confirmed for me.
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, LA 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 Wilcox, who has been incommunicado with me since last year when I exposed Deputy City Attorney 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 Feuer’s executive assistant or his chief of staff.
I then emailed 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?
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,” Manning wrote.
When advised that Reyes’ story was factually wrong, Manning asked what about it was incorrect and 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 Reyes.
Neither the Times nor Reyes apparently did that though. Her article remains published in its original form on the Times’ website in direct conflict with the LA court website, five days after it was published.
This turmoil all started nearly a year ago when Spindler submitted an LA City Council speaker card with racially antagonistic words and imagery to City Council president Herb Wesson, who is black, and who felt Spindler’s content was threatening. While the city obtained a temporary restraining order (TRO) against Spindler, which he is appealing, the California Bar Association refused to take action against him, citing his content as free speech and that it did not constitute a threat.
The TRO against 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.”
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 January 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 Feuer now claims, why was 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 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, 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 LA in the same predicament.”
At a recent settlement meeting with attorneys representing the city, Spindler says they encouraged him to hold off serving the city with his second civil suit (against Wesson,) allegedly and ominously telling him they “would see what we can do about this.”
Spindler claims that Feuer’s office planted the fake LA 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 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 Wilcox’s extrajudicial statements to the media were done to bias a potential jury pool.
Spindler says he will sue to get the recorded 911 call, if one was actually made, and phone records of everyone who accompanied 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.
(Daniel 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. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.