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Friday, April 19, 2024

DA faces allegation over anti-Asian remarks and firing Asian spokeswoman in retaliation

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The first African-American female district attorney in Northern California is facing a lawsuit over allegations that she frequently made anti-Asian remarks and wrongfully terminated a Korean-American spokeswoman.

The woman at the center of the controversy is DA Pamela Price, who became the first black district attorney in 2022 in Alameda County, the state’s seventh most populous county.

The woman preparing to sue is Patti Lee, a Korean-American journalist and former spokeswoman for the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office.

The L.A.-area law firm Roxborough, Pomerance, Nye & Adreani, LLP (RPNA) recently sent a lawsuit warning letter to the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office on behalf of Lee. According to RPNA, Lee was abruptly terminated from her position as a spokeswoman last December after expressing concerns about the DA’s violation of the Public Records Act.

From left, former Spokeswoman Patti Lee and DA Pamela Price. [Emilie Raguso/The Berkeley Scanner, Office of the Alameda County District Attorney]

The RPNA wrote, “Lee also says Price ‘constantly and openly’ made derogatory comments against Asian Americans, at one point saying that ‘the media and the Asians’ were her enemies, according to the letter. In the letter, the law firm stated Lee — who is Asian American — also ‘experienced a clear anti-Asian sentiment during her employment’ at the DA’s office.”

The case arises as Price currently faces a recall challenge over her radical justice reform policies.

The incident began on November 29 of last year when the DA’s office barred a reporter from a local media outlet, Emilie Raguso, who had been reporting unfavorably on Price. The DA’s office initially claimed Raguso was turned away due to security issues but later described it as an “oversight.”

RPNA’s letter stated, “Ms. Lee was aware of the preexisting animosity and knew that the reasons for refusing Ms. Raguso access to the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office’s press conference were pretextual,” according to the letter. The next day, Raguso submitted a Public Records Act request for documents related to the DA’s office media policies and press list, followed by similar requests from other reporters.

From the letter, it appears that Price’s communications director, Haaziq Madyun, “was not being forthcoming with the documents that he knew were in the possession of the Alameda County Assistant District Attorney’s office.”

The CPRA protects consumers’ rights to correct inaccurate personal information or request relevant personal information, among other things.

According to the RPNA letter, Lee, who raised concerns about compliance with the law, was instructed to clear out her office within 8 minutes after a CPRA response meeting within the prosecutor’s office. This occurred on December 12 last year. Lee’s termination notice did not provide a reason for her separation, merely noting that she had been an at-will employee.

Lee’s law firm described her termination as a “textbook case of retaliation.” The letter also mentioned that Price’s alleged “discriminatory animus” toward Asian Americans had been “well-documented in the media.”

Indeed, former Alameda County District Attorney Rebecca Warren, who is Asian, controversially resigned in May of the previous year, citing the Jasper Wu case and stating that DA Pamela Price has been “condescending and disrespectful to the AAPI community”; “We deserve better.”

Jasper Wu was a toddler who was innocently shot and killed in November 2022 during a gang shootout in an Oakland neighborhood.

“Should this matter proceed to litigation, we will immediately set the deposition of District Attorney Pamela Price and her involved staff and begin our investigation by contacting all the various news reporters who made the CPRA requests that Ms. Lee was tasked with responding to,” attorney Nicholas Roxborough wrote.

Lee’s claims include retaliation, discrimination, wrongful termination, and failure to pay wages. She is now seeking a $1.5 million settlement, according to the letter. The Alameda County DA’s office and attorneys for the Alameda County Counsel Department had not responded to a request for comment as of March 29.

Meanwhile, according to the Alameda County Registrar of Voters, more than 123,000 recall signatures have been collected for Price. If over 73,000 of those signatures are valid, a recall election will be held.

Patti Lee, a Columbia University graduate, has served as spokeswoman for the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office since June of the previous year. She has been a journalist since 1994, working as an anchor and reporter for local stations KTVT, NBC Hawaii, WJW-TV, and KTVU.

BY YEOL JANG, JUNHAN PARK    [jang.yeol@koreadaily.com]