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Thursday, June 20, 2024

Councilman John Lee sues Ethics Commission to block hearing against him

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John Lee, Councilmember of the 12th District in the Los Angeles City Council, filed a lawsuit against the LA City Ethics Commission on October 17 to block a hearing regarding ethics violation charges against him. [Screenshot]

As the LA City Ethics Commission prepares to proceed with a hearing on ethics code violation charges against Councilmember John Lee (District 12), Lee’s office has filed a lawsuit to halt the hearing, contending that the case is statute-barred.

Lee’s defense attorney, Faisal Gill, filed the lawsuit on October 17 at the LA County Superior Court against the LA City Ethics Commission. The lawsuit argues that the Ethics Commission delayed excessively in pursuing enforcement of the alleged violations. Lee seeks to stop enforcement actions and demands that the Ethics Commission dismiss its case against him.

On November 8, the Ethics Commission, acknowledging Lee’s position as an incumbent city councilmember, voted 3-0 to appoint an administrative court judge to oversee the hearing.

Ethics Commission regulations permit the presence of a commissioner or an investigator, depending on the case. However, a neutral state judicial official is required to preside over the hearing.

Jeffrey Daar, re-elected as president of the LA City Ethics Commission, recused himself from the vote, citing a potential conflict of interest in the hearing due to his candidacy in the 2019 special election for Lee’s 12th District seat, where he was one of 16 candidates.

The hearing is typically scheduled two months after filing the complaint and usually concludes in one day. The Tribunal will determine whether to impose a fine based on the evidence and testimony presented.

The hearing will examine evidence and testimony regarding the extent of hospitality and entertainment Lee received during trips to Las Vegas in 2016 and 2017, as per the Ethics Commission.

On October 2, the Ethics Commission charged Councilmember Lee with ten counts of ethics violations, alleging breaches of the City’s Ethics Code. The charges involve Lee accepting $7,830 in expenses during Las Vegas trips in 2016 and 2017. The commission contends Lee did not report these gifts to the ethics committee, nor did he disclose them during his 2019 and 2020 election campaigns.

At the time of the Las Vegas trips, Lee was the chief of staff for then-Councilmember Mitchell Englander, who was sentenced to prison in 2020 for accepting bribes during a 2017 Las Vegas trip. Following Englander’s resignation, Lee was elected in the special election in 2019 and the regular election in 2020 for the 12th District.

Councilmember Lee has strongly denied these ethics violation charges and is committed to his defense. His office has labeled the allegations as “completely false,” arguing that the commission has grossly exaggerated the amount spent during the 2017 trip to Las Vegas.

Lee contends that there were no issues with the FBI’s investigation into Englander’s case. He suggests that the Ethics Commission investigators have exceeded the four-year statute of limitations, insinuating that these charges are timed with his 2024 re-election and may be politically motivated.

“I will vigorously defend myself against these false allegations, including through legal means,” Lee stated, emphasizing his cooperation with the Ethics Commission’s investigation, including voluntary testimony and evidence submission.

“I have filed a lawsuit in the county court through my office’s legal team because the Ethics Commission is proceeding without evidence, disregarding facts and regulations,” he added, highlighting that the Commission’s first contact was five years after the events in question, suggesting political intent.

Lee’s office insists that he will not relent in this battle, accusing the Ethics Commission investigators of manipulating media coverage of the hearing process.

BY BRIAN CHOI [ichoi@koreadaily.com]