Former Council Deputy Ian Owens to Get $500k in Settlement of Suit Against the City

Former West Hollywood City Council deputy Ian Owens will receive $500,000 in the settlement of a lawsuit that he filed in May against the city and Councilmember John Duran, for whom he worked.

The settlement was released by the city today. The settlement specifically says that neither the City of West Hollywood nor Duran concede that any allegations made by Owens are true.  City Attorney Mike Jenkins said an independent investigation of the matter commissioned by the city  found no evidence that Duran engaged in sexual harassment, as Owens had alleged.

Jenkins said the decision to settle the case wasn’t easy.  “It puts the city in a tough spot,” he said, acknowledging that some people will assume the city settled because Owens could make a strong case.  In fact, Jenkins said, the city participates in an insurance pool and was pressured by that organization to settle as the cost of the litigation grew.

In his suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, Owens alleged that he was wrongfully suspended on false allegations of spying on a colleague when he was actually trying to report unlawful activity by her. Owens also alleged that Duran sexually harassed him instead of helping him get the city to investigate the purported illegal activity. Publicity about those allegations focused local residents on a variety of problems with the 30-year-old deputy system that some labeled “Deputygate.”

Former West Hollywood City Council Deputy Ian Owens, left, with Councilmember John Duran (Facebook)
Former West Hollywood City Council Deputy Ian Owens, left, with Councilmember John Duran (Facebook)

In the deputy system, each Council member got to hire his or her own personal assistant with compensation, including benefits, that ranged as high as $200,000 a year. Residents and City Hall staffers complained that some deputies worked as political operatives for their bosses, some didn’t work regular hours and some interfered with the work of other city employees. The third floor area of City Hall where the deputies were housed was known for its hostile atmosphere in which some deputies would not speak to one another. The Council, prompted by Mayor Lindsey Horvath, eliminated the system in June.

In his suit, Owens claims he was the victim of retaliation for reporting alleged misconduct and that Duran harassed him instead of helping him get city officials to act on his allegation. Owens was placed on administrative leave in January 2015 after the city launched an investigation into allegations that he had bugged the office of Fran Solomon, an aide to Councilmember John Heilman, and emailed a chronicle of her private conversations under a fake name to local journalists and residents. Later Owens was allowed to return to work while an investigation into the allegations continued and until the deputy system was eliminated.

In his lawsuit, Owens stated that he did nothing wrong in taking notes about Solomon’s telephone conversations, which he said he heard “through the walls” because Solomon’s office was next to his. “Importantly, at no time did Mr. Owens ever record any conversations of anyone at City Hall or otherwise break any laws,” the suit claimed.

The conversations Owens overheard led him to believe Solomon was involved in “illegal electioneering and fundraising,” according to the suit. Owens was known to be a close friend of Michelle Rex, the deputy to Councilmember John D’Amico. Rex and Solomon did not speak to one another. And D’Amico frequently and publicly has expressed his dislike for Heilman and worked for his defeat in the March 3 City Council election.

Owens began working as Duran’s deputy in August 2012. His suit alleged Duran “made sexual advances and/or sexually suggestive comments to Mr. Owens well over 100 times” and that Duran failed to protect him against the city’s alleged retaliation for his email about Solomon. Duran has admitted to WEHOville that he first met Owens through Grindr, a gay hookup app, and had sex with him. However Duran said that he didn’t have sex with Owens, or solicit sex from him, after hiring him.

The money paid to Owens will come from the Employment Risk Management Authority, a statewide risk sharing pool that provides employment practices liability coverage to government agencies, and the California Joint Powers Insurance Authority, which also provides liability insurance. Owens’ payout may not be as large as it seems. While the details of his contract with his lawyer are not known, many attorneys handle such suits on a contingency basis, taking 33% to 40% of the money awarded.  In addition, Owens will have to pay taxes on the total award amount.

Owens must agree not to pursue any claims to be returned to his job or otherwise apply for a job with the City of West Hollywood or to be retained by the city as a contractor.

Two other former deputies have made claims against the City of West Hollywood, although they have not as yet filed lawsuits. Michelle Rex has filed a claim with the city for an unspecified amount of damages because of the elimination of her position. Fran Solomon has filed a claim against the city alleging that she was the victim of bullying, harassment, intimidation and defamation by Councilmember John D’Amico and other Council deputies.

  1. How would I live and breath without you ‘Boris the Democrat.’ HA! You have missed the point. Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Steve will never learn but voter’s have.

  2. What a sad joke Duran has made of city governance. The insurance carrier clearly pushed for a settlement knowing that a trial could result in a much higher award, that’s how insurance companies work. Duran needs to finally be an honorable person and step down with some grace and dignity.

  3. Grennie, Steve Martin’s past alleged issues have nothing to do with the discussion here, which is about “Deputygate”. The only thing I would clarify in what Steve wrote is rather than Duran anticipating a “deputy with benefits”, perhaps a better way would put it would be a horny “Councilmember with benefits”.

    And I would add that the City is quick to state that “no wrongdoing was admitted” by either side as part of the settlement, but a normal settlement with no wrongdoing might be $5,000 or $10,000. A $500,000 settlement leads me to believe there was a lot of wrongdoing going on by the losing party: Councilmember Duran, and his “sugar daddy” who will pay his bills for his wrongdoing on his behalf: The City of Weho.

    And please folks, don’t rationalize this by saying, “the City doesn’t pay anything, the insurance company pays the settlement”. That really isn’t the point here.

  4. BTW folks – $500k is not the only cost here? Please note in the 3rd paragraph of the story – “…as the cost of the litigation grew.” What is not disclosed are those costs – both outside counsel (if used) and internal city costs (distraction, etc.+++)….. the $500k MAY be only part of the costs the City incurs (whether paid by insurance or not – as anyone with any business experience knows this cost will at some point be passed on to the Insured – meaning the citizens of West Hollywood at some point….)

  5. Steve Martin assumes hers say as fact. Don’t forget Steve, the state Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) for illegally funneling campaign contributions to political campaigns that you were officially cited for violation state campaign finance laws (Case #02/828).

    Steve you were also accused by a local community group of illegally using their organization’s logo and fabricating a quote from their executive director to falsely imply that he had been endorsed by the group. Mislead voters much? Rings of hypocrisy!

  6. Campaigning at City Hall is not appropriate even if it “just” calling folks to come to a Heilman photo shoot. I am sure that was just the tip of the iceberg. $500 is about right for a non-physical hostile work environment claim; I doubt if Ian would have done better at trial. But the settlement is certainly not nuisance value. None of this would have happened had Duran done the legally correct and professional thing and informed Human Resources and the City Manager about his relationship with Own prior to hiring him. That is what happens in the real world. Does anyone believe that Duran was not anticipating a deputy “with benefits”.

  7. Exactly MoR. The anti-Heilman obsessives here are as fact-free as their ideologically different but as though-process challenged Tea Party equivalents. Someone please save this city from them. More power to you.

  8. @Shawn Thompson. Guess you weren’t reading the news. The story in wehoVille about Ownes and Solomon said his email claimed she was calling people to ask them to appear in a photo shoot for Heilman, not asking them for money for him. Big difference there.

  9. In reading over this thread I find it so off point that some are trying to suggest some D’amico coup attempt or Rex/ owens game plan. Seriously? What set the ball rolling in this? Mr Duran a lawyer by trade and a long term council member who Im sure knows the protocol in hiring practices or code of conduct with the city of weho hires a guy he had sexual relations with and does not disclose that to the Human Resources DPT of the city? That’s the problem period. Part two of this also is Fran Solomon 30 year council member to Heilman is caught fundraising in her office for her boss which is illegal. She never denies this fact. In fact she retires. But somehow it gets spun by some into all these well thought out agendas by the deputies rex and owens or the coup attempt by D’amico..seriously? And then because of what Duran set in motion when he hired Owens the end result is the whole deputy system is removed as the one of the first things the formally appointed not elected Lindsey council member does, is removes the whole system, while the citizens continue to pay all the salaries of these deputies while they try and clean up the mess Duran started. Thats right the Deputies continued to get a paycheck even though they weren’t going to work. Which adds up the bill now even bigger. So personally in my opinion lets talk the facts and not get lost in the spin

  10. Ditto Ditto Ditto Ditto and Ditto. I think Mr Sanger is confusing Mssrs. D’amico and Duran with each other.IF not, then I just fail to understand his comments.
    Duran raises money each time he runs for election – it’s a great way to make a few bucks and not have to spend a penny if he or anyone else doesn’t want to. So, if he has the gall to run again, which would look pretty crazy to this reporters eyes, It will be like getting a bonus on departure from office.
    There is one thing that does bother me more than even the settlement. Duran may not have caused the city a direct expense of $500,000.00, but in my travels, I have seen the wound that his antics and the city’s refusal to demand his resignation have caused to West Hollywood’s reputation as a ‘real city’, one worthy of doing business with. Sure, stores that service such fine citizens as the Kardashians and their sycophants will come here for a bit, but serious clients and organizations simply don’t want their names associated with this kind of nonsense.

    That last item infuriates me and should do so to the others of us who give our volunteer hours to make this a better city. I feel like the rug has been pulled out from under me.

    As for the settlement, it is standard operating procedure to issue disclaimers after a settlement as all of the attorneys on the council will tell you. No matter what the city may say, if there wasn’t a claim, there wouldn’t have been a settlement. Thank god the city won’t be on the hook for pensions in this mess.

  11. Duran should of resigned when this first became clear how he hired this deputy.. Do we really want a council members who’s HR mistake costs the citizens $500,000 plus all the other legal fees i’m sure that are not known yet?

  12. Councillors and City Manager:

    Who among you voted/approved the Duran/Owens settlement? Please list for the public votes of each City Council Member on this item, and do not say it was a private matter not covered by the Brown Act dealt with in Closed Session. You are now revealed to be no less than Bell and other municipalities a fake organization shilling for each other.

    Ty Geltmaker, Ph.D.
    8742 Rangely Ave.

  13. Why Heilman, the absolute unquestionable honest, caring, giving councilmember by far. Heilman and Solomon are being scapegoated by, well the jaded D’Amico drones. It is unconscionable and ridiculous to claim as fact any alleged action on the part of Solomon. How easy to take the word of a con-man, opportunist, reprehensible person like Owen’s. So willing to believe this unscrupulous character; you are as culpable as Owen’s.

    D’Amico and Rex drug this city into the mud and Owen’s happily joined in for his well calculated gain. Don’t be so blind and take off your black-out glasses and pull out your ear plugs. The truth is right in front of your face! Here say means nothing especially to attack two of the finest people Heilman and Solomon that West Hollywood has had the benefit of their knowledge, guidance and vision.

    D’Amico, Rex and Owen’s were and are the pinnacle of disgusting, unprofessionalism this city has come to cross. Out – Out damn spots… Corruption has some other names and goes by D’Amico, Rex and Owen’s.

  14. “City Attorney Mike Jenkins said an independent investigation of the matter commissioned by the city found no evidence that Duran engaged in sexual harassment, as Owens had alleged.” If this is the case, he should not have been given one penny.

    All of this happened not only under Duran, but also under the city manager who sits 3 feet away from all these illicit, irresponsible and unprofessional behaviour. There needs to be a TOP TO BOTTOM investigation by the District Attorney, by the Secretary of State or the Lt. Governor, whomever is the appropriate agency. This is worse than Bell.

  15. I just thew up a little (ok, a lot) in my mouth. An assortment of emotions ranging from nausea to rage to disbelief are swirling within. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. On so many levels. Dirty trick sounds like a good way ro describe this.

  16. To ask the obvious, did D’Amico vote to accept this? And if so, why? It would seem to be on his “side’s” interest in pursuing this for the supposed dirt. Was he worried about what would come out about his role in this? He might have had as much or more motive for this to go away.
    This is a great city with great government. The idea that we add another vote to the D’Amico/Heilman duo to make a majority, particularly before examining D’Amico’s role in all this (via his deputy) apart from the reality that it would severely damage the city is unconscionable.

  17. Those who defend Heilman in this mess overlook the fact that no one disputes that he kept his deputy on the job even after it was known that she was campaigning for the Councillor from her office while on the WeHo City dime. And It doesn’t matter from where exactly this settlement money comes. Is West Hollywood really so addled with dysfunctional gay men who wink at corruption as long as no one is treating them so badly as they were treated in the hellholes from which they fled?

  18. The precedent set is that everyone who leaves the City will want a million dollars for something, could be anything. The voters will do nothing but continue to reelect the same group they always have. city of career politicians. wasn’t there some guy a decade ago that exposed this kind of behavior and corruption on cable access. Turns out he was right. I remember him screaming about all of them. Lets get him back cause what we have now isn’t working. This is just awful. i’m literally shaking reading about this.

  19. I could not agree more that John Duran has to resign immediately. Havent we had Congressmen do the same thing and then end of leaving in disgrace? Why is Duran skating through this without any harm heading his way? Why isn’t there a California Bar Association ethical violation investigation happening?

    West Hollywood was started to give individuals that did not fit standard social norms of the time, a home and an urban village in order to be comfortable and safe.

    Now we have our very own Government Officials hiring their Deputies based on photos from Grindr? If that isn’t sexual harassment, Monica Lewinsky was under Clinton’s desk just cleaning up the dust bunnies.

    Duran must go. Heilman should be investigated. And practices like this not only need to stop immediately but also must be punished immediately. Duran should have resigned the second the story broke.

    This is a huge blemish on a City that prides itself on equality for all in spite of any differences. Apparently now we support sexual harassment as a hiring practice? WTF?

  20. SE – did you read the article? The city is NOT out $500,000. Better reading comprehension please. Ty/James – you have zero proof of any wrong doing by Heilman. Better luck next time.

  21. oh my God, can you believe this lottery win?
    thanks john duran, and didn’t he mock jeff prangs $30K harrassment folly?
    what a joke.
    please, please, somebody at city hall grab my a&% !!! it’s mighty pretty.

  22. Opportunist Owen’s is out, gone and only too soon before he Wessel’s for more. The Insurance group is right. Cut your losses, get this parasite out. Venomous Rex gone. Bye Felicia! Nasty to the core – Bad seed!

    Now for the true ring leader, D’Amico. Have you no shame. Obviously not as your clown show goes on and on and on. Step down! You are now in good company with a former Councilmember of questionable character.

  23. This is disgusting. Owens was at best, a mediocre employee who cried “wolf” aka sexual harassment when he was removed from his job for illegal activities. This settlement is 499,999.00 more than he deserves. I know at some point the City just needs to be done with him and to move forward, but he in no way deserves anything close to it. Sets a bad precedent, I fear, for the negotiations with Rex & Mr. Republican & anti union (except when it benefits him, as he joined the union less than 2 weeks before his job was eliminated) Scott Schmidt.

  24. John Heilman set up this system, he is equally guilty as Duran. There are countless other and better reasons these two need to be recalled than Deputygate/Grindrgate, but this is a good start. It won’t happen though. The voters deserve what they get.

  25. This is shameful. Duran and Heilman need to resign. Their deputies were illicitly hired (in the case of Duran/Owens) and willfully nefarious (in the case of Heilman/Solomon). The buck stops at the top, even as the people pay for these shenanigans, revealing that West Hollywood is neither progressive nor creative. It’s a sham. A dysfunctional, self-deluded pumpernickel principality.

  26. Guilty or not, Duran needs to step down. He just cost residents $500,000 because he hired a man he hooked up with on Grindr, and defiantly continues trolling the app constantly. I have no issue with anyone using apps and couldn’t care less about what anyone does behind closed door as long as children and animals aren’t involved, but when they hire their tricks from apps and cost taxpayers money he needs to go. We have real issues that needs to be resolved in this city and that money just took away desperately needed services. GTFO.

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