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L.A. County Assessor Sued Over Mailings to Opponent : Courts: Kenneth P. Hahn admits sending unsigned notes to man he unseated. He calls the material a joke.

May 03, 1994|FREDERICK M. MUIR | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In politics, there's nothing new about sore losers. But county Assessor Kenneth P. Hahn stands accused of being a sore winner.

In a strange twist to his upset victory at the polls four years ago, Hahn is being sued by former Los Angeles County Assessor John Lynch, who says he has been repeatedly harassed with weird mailings since being unseated.

Hahn, no relation to former county Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, acknowledges in a sworn deposition that he sent a half-dozen notes and bogus applications to Lynch's home since Hahn's election to the $151,000-a-year post.

Included in the mail Hahn sent anonymously to Lynch's home was an employment agency application on which Hahn scrawled: "John, you're a loser, always were--always will be. Use this to get a new career."

"It's not the brightest thing I've done," Hahn said in an interview, adding that he has apologized to Lynch. "It was a practical joke. I thought he'd just crumple them (the mail) up and throw them in the trash can. . . . I thought that would be the end of it."

Hahn defended his actions by saying they were no worse than tactics employed by Lynch when he was assessor and Hahn was a deputy in the department.

As for Lynch, he says Hahn's actions are, at best, "unbecoming of an elected official. . . . What's with this guy? He won, and now he's mad at me?"

Lynch filed suit last June, after handwriting experts helped him establish that Hahn was the source of the mailings. The Los Angeles Superior Court complaint alleges that Hahn "committed a series of acts with the objective of deliberately and repeatedly harassing, humiliating, embarrassing, injuring and invading the privacy" of Lynch and his wife. "Such acts include . . . anonymously sending offensive correspondence to plaintiffs' home, forging the name of John Lynch and falsely submitting John Lynch's name and address as a purported client to various vendors."

Lynch is seeking compensation for his alleged suffering and an order by the court to keep Hahn away. He has further asked that Hahn and the county be forced to turn over telephone records to see if the assessor is responsible for scores of menacing phones calls that Lynch says he has received.

Hahn has admitted under oath to making only one phone call to Lynch's home. But Lynch says such an acknowledgment is like pleading that you are "a little bit pregnant."

Hahn has responded to the suit by contending that, while he did send the offending mail, there has been no damage to Lynch and that there is no basis for a lawsuit.

The escalating legal battle is just the latest in a series of personal tangles between the two dating back to the mid-1980s, when Lynch first ran for assessor and Hahn was backing a rival.

Their feud is certain to spill over into other, more public venues as Hahn and Lynch prepare to face off again at the polls. Both have joined a crowded field of 15 candidates running in the June 7 primary election for the obscure but important post of county assessor.

The Los Angeles County assessor, one of only three officials elected countywide, oversees the largest property-taxing jurisdiction in the nation in terms of land value. The assessor, with a staff of 1,800 employees and an annual budget of $85 million, is responsible for determining tax bills for 2.2 million commercial and residential properties.

Hahn's campaign consultant, Harvey Englander, said the allegations and the lawsuit are purely political. "Lynch has blown this out of proportion," Englander said. "He filed (the lawsuit) when he started running for (reelection)."

Lynch, meanwhile, says Hahn has only himself to blame. "He forced me to do this," said Lynch, who was particularly angry about receiving a Great Expectations dating service application after Hahn had put Lynch's name on a request. "My wife . . . feels this guy is trying to break up our marriage by signing my name to the dating service (application)."

Lynch said his wife, Eulalia, has had to seek medical treatment for stress and tension as a result of the mail and repeated late-night phone calls.

Some of Hahn's mailings appear more whimsical than overtly threatening. In one, Hahn sent a copy of his office newsletter, in which he is depicted in a drawing as Santa Claus in a space ship. Across the page Hahn scribbled: "Thanks for the pay raise Ace! You made it easy to be elected to My office."

Lynch acknowledges there is a political side to his battle with Hahn, which he has been discussing in news releases. "This is about character and competence," Lynch said.

Lynch, however, also has a reputation for volatility. During his term in office, he made headlines by throwing county auditors out of his office and was accused of assaulting an employee during a heated argument over the employee's union activities. Lynch denied the assault allegation.

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