Day Six: Councilmembers Duran and D’Amico Agree and Disagree

John D’Amico (left) and John Duran in the City Council Chambers.

Testimony in the sixth day of the trial in the case of Michelle Rex vs. the City of West Hollywood offered a fascinating look into the sometimes close and sometimes contentious relationships between two of the city’s politicians and between their deputies and others at City Hall.

Today’s witnesses included three major players: City Councilmembers John Duran and John D’Amico and Rex, D’Amico’s former deputy. Rex is suing the city, alleging that it eliminated the deputy system (and thus her job) in retaliation for her defense of her friend and fellow deputy Ian Owens, who was discovered to have been monitoring the conversations of a third deputy with whom both he and Rex had a fraught relationship. Rex is said to be seeking $3 million.

As witnesses, Duran and D’Amico were required to leave the courtroom after their testimony today. As a plaintiff, Rex remained, looking toward the front of the courtroom without any obvious emotion while Duran criticized her for allegedly politicizing the deputy system and then crying and wiping her eyes when D’Amico talked about how much he admired the work she did and regretted that she lost her job. “She was a terrific person to work with,” he said.

Michelle Rex

Duran and D’Amico both agreed that the deputy system, in place since the city was founded in 1984, was troubled. Duran said the problems were evident well before he took office. D’Amico said he had heard complaints from constituents about poor response from deputies. He even agreed that he had heard complaints about Rex’s behavior. But he said he was reluctant to confront her with what other people were saying about her.

Both also agreed to one degree or another that Ian Owens, whose monitoring of Fran Solomon’s phone calls sparked the controversy that came to be known as “Deputygate,” had performance issues. But Duran and D’Amico differed as to who was responsible for Owens’ performance problems.

Duran, who had said Owens and Rex were “the two most detested employees in City Hall,” described Owens as someone who was difficult to manage, particularly because he wasn’t in City Hall often to directly oversee his deputy. “It required a lot more intervention and supervision and having to correct things with him over the two years I worked with him,” Duran said, comparing Owens to his former deputy Hernan Molina, who Duran said performed well.

Duran said that in meetings with constituents or business interests Owens sometimes would make demands that Duran disagreed with. “He said ‘the council member wants this’ — things I didn’t want. He was acting as another councilmember….”

Duran said the deputy system was flawed in part because the deputies were political appointees and thus difficult for the city manager to effectively supervise. “He had no ability to discipline them other than come to us and say your deputy is causing a problem,” Duran said of City Manager Paul Arevalo.

D’Amico said he “had some empathy for Mr. Owens, who was a young man working in a complicated environment with questionable oversight.” Because of the problems with Owens’ behavior and performance, D’Amico said, he should have had better oversight and support.

Ian Owens (Photo from LinkedIn)

The two council members agreed that neither had heard any complaints from Owens or Rex or anyone else that he had been sexually harassed by Duran.  Allegations of sexual harassment by Duran and that he lost his job as retaliation for monitoring Solomon’s phone calls were the basis for a lawsuit that Owens brought against the city and Duran in May 2015. The city settled that suit with a payment to Owens of $500,000. Both the city and Duran denied Owens’ allegations.

D’Amico testified that he didn’t expect that Rex would lose her job when the City Council voted on June 15, 2015, to eliminate the current deputy system. He said that the reorganization of the system, as he understood it, would have allowed the current deputies to serve as part of a pool working for all council members. However he did say that the current system, in which one staffer keeps the council members’ schedules, another staffer researches and writes legislative proposals for them and other support is offered from staffers reporting to the city manager, is working.

““There’s some additional fine tuning that needs to happen,” D’Amico said. “…. But that’s like any organization…. Ultimately I find that all of the frustration and all of the comments about the quality of the deputies work have disappeared because we have no deputies. Right now we have a support staff that does its work very well.”

D’Amico, while stressing his friendship with Duran, also criticized him during his testimony. “Councilmember Duran is complicated,” D’Amico said. “He is boisterous and often not as thoughtful as I’d like to think I am. So John says things that are inappropriate.” D’Amico said, however, that he had “never heard John say anything of a sexual nature to Ian Owens.”

D’Amico said that Duran often commented to him on his sex life and that he was open about that with him and others on a frequent basis. He acknowledged that he had told Steve Rodig, who the city hired to investigate allegations that Owens had monitored Solomon, that “sex is part of who John Duran is.”

Duran defended his openness about his sex life, saying that West Hollywood’s history was one of sexual liberty, whether on the Sunset Strip or Boystown, the gay nightlife district. “Sexual discussions that happen in West Hollywood you’re not going to see in West Covina, but it’s pretty common in West Hollywood,” he said.

Rex was called as a witness near the end of today’s trial session. Under questioning from her lawyer, Mark Quigley, Rex said that John Duran has made inappropriate sexual remarks to Ian Owens in front of her. “John Duran is a very sexually motivated person, very sexually charged,” she said. “It always made me uncomfortable, but more uncomfortable when it was directed at Ian Owens.”

She said that Duran, who she described as a friend, would show her photos of nude men “with their heads cut off” on Grindr, the gay hookup app. She said she talked to D’Amico on occasion about that but never reported it to the city’s human resources officers.

“Why?” Quigley asked. “Because I believe Ian Owens would be fired if I did that,” Rex said. And why did she believe that? Quigley asked. “Because Ian Owens was fired when he did that,” Rex said.

The trial will resume on Monday with more questioning of Rex. It is expected to last at least until Thursday of next week.

  1. Dear Observer:

    See updated comment:
    Re: Duran and the Owens/Rex lawsuits, (as submitted to WehoVille, 5/20/17:

    Sexual liberation does not equal sexual predation. And even though I would have, according to the law, reached the same jury verdict in this case — allowing that a municipality may change institutional systems for justifiably proven reasons of economy and efficiency regardless of other related factors — we all know that the deputy system was abolished precisely due to the effects of the Duran/Owens scandal, for which Duran should have not run again and should now resign, as should his defenders on the Council as well as any prinicipled dissenter from this sordid image of West Hollywood, trading on a fake historical image of Mob-sponsored/Mafia-protected debauchery and desperation as some sort of heroic resistance. Black Cat and Stonewall were as much an uprising against the Closet and its organized crime extortionists as it was an act of civil defiance. From what traumatic places and situations did Duran’s defenders flee that they confuse — at this stage of our struggle — being free and safe in WeHo with being free to be predatory and obnoxious? F*ck Without Fear takes on new meaning.

  2. Wrong thread Roy, but I have toured the Plummer Park buildings. The Great Hall IMO is not so great, and its preservation and the objections to replacing it led to the loss of millions of state money for a much needed renovation and thus a great loss to the city and particularly the east side. Reasonable people can disagree about this, but I learned to question a lot of judgment from local preservationist when they tried to claim a special nature to the Great Hall. And I am a big backer of reasonable preservation. Tara I have seen briefly from outside but became a close follower of city politics after it took place so have no opinion on it.

  3. @chrissanger please come on an historic walk with the WHPA, and we’ll show you the value of Fiesta Hall and Long Hall/Great Hall, our great WPA buildings in Plummer Park. Also, our Golden Age of Hollywood Tour covers Tara and its remarkable history…as it sits forlorn by a seemingly uncaring “Creative City.” We’re happy to share some history with you and all Wehoans and visitors.

  4. @ ferragosto1: So you would rather invite chaos than have facts distinguished from fiction and properly adjudicated? Unless you know every detail and would be the ultimate decider, that would not be wise. Equally unwise to opportunistically portray our able city clerk as an example of minority put down. There are opinions and there are facts. Yes, I have given an opinion, hopefully based on fairmindedness which is something we all presumably desire.

  5. Duran is wrong on so many levels. Sexual talk in the work space is very low class. Showing naked men….. A person deserves a certain level of respect at work. Do that nonsense in your private life. I would have reported him to human resources. How that perv continues to be a member of WH city counsel is a disgrace! He should be fired. Shameful!

  6. I have been to one city council meeting in the 25 years that I have lived in West Hollywood. on the agenda was to get neighborhood feedback on the proposed Laurel Hardware restaurant. One by one, my neighbors and I got up and emotionally stated facts about the shortage of parking, the late night noise, etc. As each one of us spoke, John Duran did not look up from his phone once and more than a few times, actually broke into a laugh about something he was reading on his phone. he showed exactly what he thought of the people that he was representing. Since that night, I have no respect for this guy and find him to be the worst kind of poser; a dangerous suck up to developers and someone that I would never vote for or rally behind.

  7. West Hollywood City Councillors,

    How can you possibly hold a swearing-in/transfer of authority Monday evening under this cloud of malfeasance? And then a celebratory reception? Have you taken leave of your senses? If even one of you had an ounce of propriety you would resign from the Council the minute Heilman and Duran advance to their new posts. And you people complain about Trump? You are just as self serving and corrupt and I see no difference between his style and yours. Please, with your arrogance, do not tempt me and others to disrupt your sham ceremony and reception. Better left alone in the dregs of your banal mendacity, as if there were any other kind. It is shameful that you are requiring a minority woman who is City Clerk to administer the oath of office to two sexist men.

  8. What do you expect when you hire someone completely unqualified based on having sex with them from a hook up on Grinder? This is just embarrassing that we are even witnessing this. If someone can’t grow up they shouldn’t be an elected official making grown up decisions for all of the residents of West Hollywood. What is with the blow by blow reporting by some of the commenters? Please get a life.

  9. Mr Duran could of done the honorable and ethical thing way back when and stepped down, for the HR mess of a ball he set it motion. But we continue to have our city’s name dragged through the mud and a bright light shined on a gay elected official that dances on the line it’s a gay thing., or about sexual liberation in our city’s culture In the private sector he would of been terminated. And weho-wille did a great spin coining the term “Deputy-gate” and is the second force that spun this ball faster and faster, and no we have no deputy’s which is clear was an effort to stop the ball from spinning. But on it goes, a grindr hire by a long term city council member, is not past reproach, a city council member who is infarct a lawyer who clearly knew what he was doing was ethically bankrupt

    1. Actually “Deputygate” was a term coined by Woody McBreairty, and posted on WEHOville, and it does seems to have become widely adopted!

  10. @ Tyrone: D’Amico was used in a plot to overthrow the palace. Ask Steve Martin who might know a thing or two about it.

  11. David – Heilman received the equivalent of 52 per cent of the vote, a majority not a plurality. The #s presented don’t take into account that people got up to two votes in the race so you need to double what they show to give the actual result. And both Heilman and Duran got more than a third more votes than the next two. Had there been only four candidates they of course each would have gotten some of the votes for the remaining candidates, or the total vote might have been lower making a higher % possible. This nonsense about their not having clear victories is another pathetic example of the losers not recognizing that once again like usual they lost.

  12. It is interesting to compare Duran’s testimony today compared to several statements he made to the press, including the LA Times, praising Ian Owen’s performance as a deputy. The City’s apparent concern that the Council deputies were “conspiring” to depose the City Manager seems odd given that the Deputies don’t have a vote on hiring and firing; but is does bespeak of the paranoia and dysfunction on the third floor. If anything that only reinforces the charge the the deputies were eliminated as a form of retaliation and warning not to challenge the status quo.

  13. The winners on the 2017 election won by a plurality. More total votes against the Johns than for them. At a per vote cost that set a municipal election record.

  14. Perhaps Council Member D’Amico or anyone that knows the fact could enlighten the public as to exactly what the turning point was when he became cordial towards Council Member Heilman which led to supporting his reelection.

  15. @ a concerned city. none of the attorneys asked that question but im told that there was no basis to that claim. it came up during the election of 2015 and it was more rumor than fact.

  16. I’d cry real tears too if I thought I’d get $3 mil out of the City. Rex should put that bit of acting experience on her resume. What a joke. All this stems from D’Amico’s deep seated, personal and long standing hatred for Heilman and his deputy. D’Amico is the one who should be on trial for his outrageously inflated ego and pathological machinations to get rid of Heilman for years.

  17. Everyone is entitled to comment. None of these comments are facts. Ms. Rex will need facts to prove her case. This is called evidence. Evidence = facts supported by written, testimony or objects. Speculation and opinions are not evidence.

  18. Question (for Hank or Larry): did either attorney ask D’Amico if he was planning to vote to fire Arevelo and Jenkins? This was an accusation made by Duran on the previous day’s testimony. His theory being that Owens and Rex were trying to rid the Council of Heilman to make this possible.

  19. I have made many comments here over the years. I have criticized Duran’s actions but explained coherently why it was critical for him to be re-elected considering the incredible damage a Meister/Martin/Blatt combo would have done (or possibly two with D’Amico). The city might not have survived in anything close to the success it has.
    I have criticized Heilman on occasion, but his performance over all has been stellar. My main reference him is to defend him against what IMO are unjustified and frequently deranged criticism of him, the extent of which I have never understood. I started paying attention around the time of Tara (on which I don’t have knowledge) and Plummer Park (where he was right but forced to retreat) which seem to have animated a lot of the insane hatred of him.
    To clarify though – by “anti-council” I mean anti council majority.
    Duran is mercurial – I have had personal contact with all the members over the years, and both Meister in limited context (she had zero interest in talking to someone who didn’t 100% agree with her and her lockstep pro-wealthy homeowner agenda), but D’Amico’s, the recent of which were two years ago have been disturbing. His personal animus toward Heilman needed an intervention, which it appears it received. I am curious in the idea that the ending of the deputy system helped bridge their gaps, that Solomon and Rex helped make things worse. I don’t know. I am glad that they are working together.

  20. @Jessica Mitford: Stirring the pot is not an admirably attribute particularly when you choose to make up or ignore real facts. Don’t know the basis of your anti cc or anti city hall complaint as it is often veiled in subterfuge. Speak the facts plainly, defend them or make an appropriate legal challenge. Otherwise it is muckraking as usual which serves no long term benefit to anyone.

  21. Chris, I’m not “anti-council.” I have repeatedly said that Duran should have reported his past sexual relationship with Owens to HR. That would have been the professional thing to do, and I stand by that. As an attorney, he should have known the risk he was putting the city in. I don’t condone frivolous lawsuits, or fictional accusations. If his testimony is to be believed, then I in fact feel sorry for him, a bit.

    I also repeatedly criticized the City for not dealing with the deputy mess a long time ago, before this all blew up. That doesn’t make me “anti-council,” it means that I want a city government that manages things responsibly, when using taxpayer money. I’m not saying the City deserves what it is going through now, but it could have been avoided. Our City Manager’s own testimony indicated that he knew it was dysfunctional, as far back as the year 2000. You act like none of this means anything “because insurance is covering it.” Insurance is NOT covering all of this. Not the severances and six months paid leave and benefits. Not the paid hours of city employees to deal with all of this, including the time it is taking to fight this lawsuit. This all has to add up to well over a million dollars, I’m sure. I’ve also repeatedly said that this damages the city’s reputation and public trust.

    Read through my comments again.

    On the flip side, one could argue that you seem to defend Councilmember’s actions and behavior on almost every point. Especially John Heilman. You act like the there’s no room for improvement in our government, just because the City is doing well financially, which makes you describe West Hollywood as “paradise.”

    Also, what about your criticism of D’Amico? Does that make you “anti-Council?” You obviously side with some more than others.

  22. My error. Meant Jessica Mitford, not COncerned Citizen in this case. And to conflate WeHo with the Palm Springs situation, where the Mayor had both known and unknown business ties with developers, totally unlike WeHo, which is the basis of the charges is an offensive conflation trying to confuse people ignorant of the facts.

  23. The fact that the usual suspects don’t like your reports just proves how valuable they are. The audacity of “Concerned Citizen” to try to suppress you speaks volumes.
    Your report included real news – that D’Amico isn’t planning to run for reelection. But your insights beyond that are invaluable.
    The anti-council folks have always hated facts and hate the truth. Concerned Citizen and others posting here just prove that point.
    We all owe Larry a big thank you. Read it aware of his bias, sure, he doesn’t hide it. But to tell him to shut up is an outrage.

  24. @ Jessica– thanks for your comments. I am an emotional guy especially when I see something that is wrong as in this case and the mud sling. Rex l was crying – its emotional on both sides when your heart is vested and my heart is vested in West Hollywood and my optic of right and wrong. Duran was re-elected overwhelmingly – and Rex or Ownes did not file any grievance until after Owens was walked out for illegally spying on Fran Solomon. That’s the facts. And too much to explain here in 100 words.

  25. A.C.Neighbor@. WEHOville is doing a great job and service in covering the trial. Mainly the facts without editorial overtones. As for comments, that’s freedom of speech and produces a public discourse without the need of pepper spray.

    What we need is full exposure and dialogue of a very insular government on Santa Monica Blvd. , blatant cronyism and a self-serving agenda whose shout out is “the public be damned!”

  26. @ Larry. Your courtroom comments come close to making you WEHO’s own Dominick Dunne, but in reality, you’re more sob sister-ish especially tearing up and needed a tissue in that small courtroom whenever John Duran, who continues to portray himself as the victim, speaks.

    Each day WEHOVille’s excellent coverage has presented an ordeal that is sad, and very disturbing. Not because of Ms. Rex’s claim, all the talk about Grindr related “glory holes” and other unsavory testimony. But the unfortunate fact that West Hollywood is parading a collection of unseemly characters, political hacks, who’ve taken big campaign donations, and arrogant public servants with unwarranted overpaid salaries feeding at the public trough with little concern for the city’s citizens need to have a thorough house cleaning

    Duran claims he’s “the poor sucker” caught in the middle on the City Council, placating fractions between the other four members.

    Laughable, when you know that Duran, Heilman, and Horvath, aka the “Townscape Three,” have given a “yes vote” to every white male rich guy backed development that passes in front of them. The calculating and opportunistic politicians have done this as “pay for play” after receiving thousands of dollars in campaign donations from lobbyists, developers, and big New York money. Or perhaps there could there be other kickbacks?

    The WEHO City Manager was right when he said the city was in the spotlight of media attention, not only this trial but when one time Mayor Lindsay Horvath said President Trump wasn’t welcome in WEHO.

    Political payback is apparently happening in this trial, on a local level, but this could mushroom into a larger scale, Washington DC.

    A new FBI head could direct his or hers LA office to take up several “poor sucker” citizen’s complaints regarding WEHO possible malfeasance and glaring problems of conflict of interest.

    These actions could result in an investigation, like what happened in Palm Springs and make the “creative city” into another City of Bell scandal with a far more sexier and flashy angle for WEHOVille to cover followed up by Larry Block’s emotional comments.

  27. I know this will be difficult for some, but can we please leave the reporting to the media, and not let our personal opinions cause us to try this case in the Comments following the reports. If anyone really wants to know what is happening, they can go to the courtroom.

  28. I do not follow city meetings closely, and I don’t know or have even met John Duran. However, even with the relative tiny experience hearing and reading John Duran quotes and proud public statements, all have at least a very strong sense that he is not thinking or speaking fully rational. Other times, it appears to me he is not at all rational and completely unaware he is impaired to varying degrees (by definition, irrational thinking and behavior is impossible for the impaired person to be aware of).

    The most awkwardly uncomfortable of his boarder line inappropriate words come delivered with both an over exaggerated self superiority and the issue is always something that is just a step stool for John Duran to publicly discuss his own personal experiemces as if he is a sage of wisdom no other long term residents (us old folks still living in weho) have no idea about.

    The behavior would perhaps be worrisome, but he is always bringing his personal thoughts up over issues, so I think he isn’t harming actual political decisions.

    This is just my personal opinion after so many years, I began to realize how often John Duran speaks up and I end scratching my head … thinking “what was he actually talking about?”

  29. Very limited seating at the courthouse. There’s only about 20 seats if you want to see the witness. Duran continued where we left off the day before and then the Me. Quigley said no more questions. John was a excellent witness in both the content and clarity of his comments. Then plaintiff moved to a videotape of Ms. Schumacher of Human Resources. Two lawyers acted out the testimony. The whole point was to try to prove if Rex had a valid employment application at city hall. The jurors heads moved in unison from side to side.

    D’Amico was waiting in the wings and the video presentation was put aside for the ‘live ‘ witness John looked serious. He answered every question and nuance that came his way. He complimented Rex performance and was clear that the goal of the Modernizatim of the Deputy System, introduced on March 2nd 2015- a day prior to the race in which Heilman lost, was a joint initiative to reform or eliminate the deputy system.

    By the time the video of the council meeting after the Owens settlement was discussed – the one in which Damico had admonished Duran the room was riveting — D’Amico was careful in his words, complimentary to Rex, critical of the system, and consistent in his explanations.. It was clear by the time D’Amico left the stand that the elimination of the deputy system was a great improvement for the city. dmacio and Heilman now work tougher. The 3rd floor of city hall is working better today. That was the message. And when asked if he plannned another run in 2019 he opted to say he was not planning to run.

    With a half hour left in the day before breaking for the weekend Mr. Quigley called Michelle Rex to the stand. She raised her right hand and promised to tell the truth . She told stories of too much Duran– and explaining her fear in coming forward— Scratching my head I thought really?.. you didn’t mention this until you had a lawyer by your side? Gimme a break.. just enough to brake for the weekend and see you back Monday morning.

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