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Firm Seeks to Move Lawsuit

Fleishman-Hillard cites fear of biased jurors in plea to transfer case to Ventura County.

December 18, 2004|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

Arguing that Los Angeles officials have prejudiced residents against Fleishman-Hillard, the public relations firm has asked for the city's lawsuit alleging that the company defrauded taxpayers to be moved to Ventura County.

The request for a change of venue filed in Los Angeles Superior Court cites the political environment and extensive media reports in which city officials depict Fleishman-Hillard as an outside firm that came into Los Angeles and "ripped off" residents through overbilling.

"In a highly publicized and political manner, city officials have characterized this action as necessary to put money back in the pockets of the very people who would be ultimately sitting in judgment on Fleishman," the firm argued.

City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo will oppose any request for a change of venue, according to spokeswoman Katie Buckland. "They can absolutely get a fair trial here," she said. "We feel we have not said anything that is unfairly prejudicial about the case."

Mayor James K. Hahn also supports keeping the trial in Los Angeles, said Deputy Mayor Doane Liu.

The firm has offered to negotiate a settlement of a city audit's claims that Fleishman billed the city for $4.2 million in questionable costs.

Fleishman's attorneys filed the motion in case the matter ends up going to trial, said Richard Kline, regional president and senior partner of the firm. "We would want the lawsuit to proceed in a fair and neutral forum."

Delgadillo filed a lawsuit alleging that the firm overbilled the city after The Times reported July 15 that seven former employees said they were encouraged or directed to inflate bills to the Department of Water and Power.

In court papers released by the firm Friday, its attorneys said the company has a right under California law to a change of venue because the lawsuit was filed in the county where the city is situated and the firm "is reasonably likely to be viewed as an outsider."

The public relations firm is headquartered in St. Louis.

"The very nature of the city's allegations, which are, in significant part, sharply disputed, are designed to depict Fleishman as an outsider who has taken advantage of Los Angeles residents," the Nov. 22 court filing says.

"The complaint is permeated with inflammatory allegations accusing Fleishman of benefiting itself at the expense of taxpayers in Los Angeles."

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