Former Council Deputy Michelle Rex Files a Lawsuit Against West Hollywood

Former West Hollywood City Council deputies Michelle Rex (left) and Ian Owens.
Former West Hollywood City Council deputies Michelle Rex (left) and Ian Owens.

Michelle Rex, the former deputy to City Councilmember John D’Amico, has sued the City of West Hollywood, alleging she was fired for her role as a witness in an investigation into a colleague’s allegations of harassment and improper electioneering.

That colleague, fellow deputy Ian Owens, recently settled his lawsuit with the city for $500,000. Owens had 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. In its settlement, the city said the settlement was not a concession that Owens’s claims were true but an effort to avoid the expense of a lengthy court trial. 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.

Rex, who served as D’Amico’s election campaign manager before being named his deputy, filed the lawsuit today in Los Angeles Superior Court seeking unspecified damages on allegations of wrongful discharge, retaliation and failure to prevent retaliation. She is being represented by attorney Aanand Mehtani, who also represented Owens.

A representative for Jenkins & Hogin, the law firm that handles legal matters for West Hollywood, did not immediately reply to a request for comment. Lisa Belsanti, the city’s spokesperson, said the city received notice of the suit today and is in the process of reviewing it.

The suits by Rex and Owens, who were known as friends at City Hall, are in response to a decision by the City Council in June of last year to eliminate the five-member deputy system. The system has long seen as flawed by City Hall insiders and was unparalleled in California cities of a similar organization and size. Its dysfunction became public last year when WEHOville revealed that Ian Owens was the author of an email message sent under a fake name alleging that Fran Solomon, then deputy to Councilmember Heilman, was using her office phone to promote Heilman’s re-election campaign. Owens was suspended while the city investigated the matter. Solomon, who complained that her conversations were being improperly monitored, also has filed a claim against the city alleging that she was the victim of bullying, harassment, intimidation and defamation by D’Amico, Rex and Owens. Solomon retired after Heilman’s defeat in the March 2015 Council election. Heilman rejoined the Council after winning a seat in the June special election.

The revelations about Owens and Solomon brought forth other accusations of animosity between Rex and Solomon that reflected the contentious relationship between their bosses, D’Amico and Heilman. Also revealed was the fact that some deputies arrived at work late and left early, interfered in the work of other city employees and weren’t responsive to the needs of local residents, a key part of the job. Some West Hollywood residents became particularly upset about the compensation of the deputies. The 2014 salary and benefits of Owens totaled about $150,000 while that of Rex totaled about $190,000.

According to Rex’s complaint, she gave statements to a private investigator hired by the city to look into Owens’s allegations about Duran and Solomon. “Ms. Rex also independently made complaints related to improper solicitation and electioneering,” according to her court papers.

But instead of taking her complaints seriously and implementing a plan to correct the problems, the Council and the city administration “decided to try to sweep these major injustices and unlawful activities under the rug,” the suit alleges.

The city fired Rex and Owens “under the guise that such terminations were part of a restructuring of the deputy program,” the suit alleges. It claims the restructuring was never discussed publicly before Owens made his accusations about Heilman’s office, and just he and Rex were affected by the firings because they were the only full-time deputies on the job at the time, according to the complaint. The city actually did not formally eliminate the deputy system until after months of negotiation with the five-member deputy union. During that time Rex and Owens, while not working for the city, remained on the payroll.

City officials were “warned time and again” that their actions were “unfair and unlawful” and that they needed to investigate the harassment and electioneering complaints in a “truly independent manner,” the suit alleges. “Ultimately, they could not be bothered to uphold the city’s professed core values and do the right thing,” the suit says.

Rex routinely worked up to 80 hours a week, and she could have transitioned to a senior administrative role for the rest of her career had D’Amico left the council, the suit states. “Now, Ms. Rex, who once had such a promising career at the city, finds herself out of a job and with an unclear future as a result of the city’s misconduct.”


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Steve Martin
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Steve Martin

Back in the day, Sal Guariello and I supported Paul Kortez’s whistler blower ordinance what included an Ombuds person so employees could report misconduct to a neutral third party without fear of retaliation. Later Heilman & his gang repealed this measure, which he had always opposed. If City employees had a way of dealing with issues before they fester the way things clearly have over the last several years, City Hall would have been better about monitoring unethical/illegal conduct on the third floor. The City is reaping what it has sown. I suspect that Jenkins will have to recuse himself… Read more »

Rob Bergstein
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Rob Bergstein

“Rex…..could have transitioned to a senior administrative role for the rest of her career had D’Amico left the council, the suit states.” The above statement is ludicrous at best. There have only been a few Council Deputies that transitioned to other positions at City Hall–Lisa Marie Belsante, Corri Plank and Hernan Molina, I believe. They were all coalition builders among their fellow Council deputies, Councilmembers, City Hall staff and the City constituents. Michelle was…..not. So I think it’s doubtful she would have been offered any other position at City Hall once D’Amico stepped down as Councilmember. I say let her… Read more »

Oliver Francis
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Oliver Francis

While this is not surprising it is stil shocking. I doubt there has ever been a more divisive person at City Hall than Michelle Rex. She is a ruthless polical,operative who transitioned directly from D’Amico’s campaign into a six figure, tax payer fund salary with extraordinary perks and benefits. She ran D’Amico’s City Council Office like a campaign office. They were observed habitually targeting political enemies any anyone who dared to be associated with John Heilman. The only thing that John D’Amico has been consistent with since his election in 2011 is this relentless pursuit to destroy Heilman and his… Read more »

Randy
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Randy

It can’t be a coincidence that she waited to file this lawsuit until just a couple weeks after the city settled with Owens. That set a precedent, and they were using the same lawyer. So the city showed that they will pay out a settlement, and I’m sure that that is what she is looking for here as well. “The suits by Rex and Owens, who were known as friends at City Hall, are in response to a decision by the City Council in June of last year to eliminate the five-member deputy system. “ – I don’t believe that… Read more »

Rudolf Martin
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Rudolf Martin

just imagine If only we had adults in city government that would make sure we don’t expose ourselves to ridicule and to major lawsuits and waste a lot of taxpayer money by letting the council members hire whomever they lust after or who does their dirty work (aka campaign managers) then have them be accountable to nobody in particular, attaching unreasonable salaries, benefits and rights (their own union???) to these positions then letting council terminate these positions and break those contracts having to pay them many more months for doing nothing and exposing us to lawsuits we then need to… Read more »

Woody McBreairty
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Woody McBreairty

Possibly the only way to stop this madness is to let this woman take her case to court & let her state the details & see how they hold up. It doesn’t sound to me like she has a very strong case & she could easily lose & be responsible herself for attorney’s fees & her other expenses. It seems to me she is probably expecting an easy money settlement because Owens got one. To put this burden upon the city again & to offer her a large out of court settlement would be e a serious injustice to the… Read more »

Ever Vigilant
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Ever Vigilant

This debacle was a well hatched plan conceived years ago and it’s dynamic is finally playing out. Several key figures have yet to be illuminated. One was forever connected at the hip to M’s. Rex, the other with many axes to grind.

JJ
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JJ

SICKENING.

Jim Nasium
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Jim Nasium

robert–All this deputy thing began in 2011…..All was fine until then.

Woody McBreairty
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Woody McBreairty

What’s even more offensive about this mess is the denial of responsibility by the CC & other city management. Seems they’d have you believe these 3 “deputies” simply moved into city hall, set up shop on their own & started an internal war with each other & their respective “bosses” on the Council, & no one noticed until there were legal implications that forced them to deal with it & even then they took the cowardly way out. The opportunism & sense of entitlement of these “deputies” is a reflection of they whole system at City Hall that empowered them.

robert
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robert

Weho is a sinking ship……it’s time to jump ship and move on. We all knew that this day would come when Weho would finally show her cracks and take on water. We stood by for years and knew it was coming but we kept electing the same people. The voters of Weho are responsible for the demise of the city.

J Chud
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J Chud

Sadly, knowing the amount her fellow former deputy got to go away she would have been a fool not to file. Hey – Weho is rich – and it doesn’t cost our councilmembers a dime if our insurance premiums shoot the moon, so why not. This is why settling with Ian set a bad precedent for our city and law suits. Anyone who has ever not gotten what they want from the city council should file just for the heck of it, ya never know what motivates our city council. This is excellent reason for city council positions to be… Read more »