Attorney Willoughby's appointment as the city attorney adds fuel to the recall
The residents of the city of Lynwood are up in arms over the recent appointment of tainted attorney Anthony Willoughby as their city attorney after they found out that he was publicly reproved for ethics violations by the California State Bar and required to re-take the State Bar ethic exam. The mayor and the city council members are in the throes of a recall and Willoughby’s appointment appears to be aggravating the situation. Information about his past ethics violations has been circulated throughout that community and the residents are poised to challenge the city council-members at the next council meeting over Willoughby’s appointment. Dr. Hanan Islam, a resident of Lynwood and a member of the Concerned Citizens of Lynwood Alliance (CCLA), sent a three-page letter addressed to the City Council Members, with copies to the city attorney, the assistant city attorney and the city manager outlining the citizens’ concern about Willoughby’s ethical violations.
She also stated, “I was very upset about Mr. Willoughby’s performance in representing the city during a recent recall hearing in court. There were two court dates and he basically did not show up therefore, the city council was not represented. And I would definitely be at the next council meeting to present my concerns.”
The CCLA is a group formed by the citizens of Lynwood and they have circulated the above-mentioned letter to the city residents. The letter dated August 28, 2007, stated, “We, the Concerned Citizens of Lynwood Alliance, are appalled at the performance of the Lynwood city attorney’s office and feel it is our civic duty to communicate this to our council in hopes it may assist you to make vital decisions regarding the legal representation you have chose. Our council is receiving inadequate legal counsel and representation and frankly we believe it borders on, if not is, malpractice.”
It appears that Willoughby was supposed to represent the city council at an Order to Show Cause Preliminary Injunction hearing aimed at stopping the recall, and according to the letter, he was not properly prepared. “This was the most embarrassing and damning performance by an attorney I have ever witnessed,” said Dr. Islam, who was present in court.
The letter continued, “…the judge noted that the documents filed by Atty. Willoughby were inadequate, having no useable data in them and she was unable to utilize them in making any decision on behalf of the council.” The judge therefore had no choice but to allow the proponents of the recall to move ahead. The letter explained that there seemed to be a question regarding some of the signatures that were gathered for the recall to proceed and the city council members were challenging the validity of the signatures and the recall. And that is the matter, which Willoughby was expected to present to the court on behalf of the Lynwood city council and indirectly the CCLA, who are also not in favor of the recall.
The CCLA believed that the information Willoughby presented in court was inadequate and unprofessional. The letter further stated, “Who are these attorneys (really) working for? It appears to us that there is intentional misrepresentation going on. We just don’t believe educated professionals can be this incompetent without intending to be so. The success we could have had with having these fraudulent signatures overturned has been thwarted by Anthony Willoughby and Associates, and we want our (city) council to know it and to now look closely at how they are being represented.”
As a result of Willoughby’s inadequate legal representation, the recall process will proceed, and the mayor and city council must now defend the recall rather than doing the business that they were elected to do. Council-member Rev. Alfreddie Johnson believed that his service as an elected official on behalf of the residents of Lynwood would thwart the recall. He said, “After the recall election is over, we are going to investigate the appointment of the city attorney. It is the responsible thing to do; it’s good for the citizens of Lynwood and for the city council.”
Council-member Leticia Vasquez, when asked to comment on the Willoughby appointment stated, “I don’t recall having any discussion about it because we have a recall going on and we have other pressing issues to address with the city.” After she was told about Willoughby’s public reproval and ethics violations she refused to return calls. She became very evasive and seemed to be trying to shield Willoughby’s record from exposure even though it already is a part of the public domain.
Calls to the mayor and the other city council-members were not returned.
When asked if the circumstances surrounding Willoughby’s appointment may be adding fuel to the recall, the president of CCLA, Lorna Hawkins said, “I think it does add fuel, of course it does because it’s a question mark about his ethics violatons. But I’m sure that’s going to be taken care of after the election. We, as the concerned citizens of Lynwood, will have to look into that and make sure that we get the proper representation for this city. This recall has been a real pain for the citizens who live here; this is the third recall attempt in two years.” As far as the city attorney’s performance, Hawkins further stated, “We are not satisfied with the things that he has done and the allegations that were brought against him about his past history. That’s very important to us. We want a city attorney that we can trust and one that we can come to and know that what he is saying is law, and that he actually knows what he is saying and he has the experience because he’s being paid a lot of money.”
Yvonne Wood, a resident of Lynwood, expressed her outrage at what she believed was conduct unbecoming of the mayor and the city council, “There’s a recall going on and when I read about the city attorney I was shocked. So what I’m trying to do is put the word out; I’m going to xerox these papers and I’ve already talked to people in the neighborhood. I am also getting ready to give these papers to the secretary to the principal of Lynwood High School to circulate to the employees who are also residents of Lynwood.” When asked about the lack of due diligence in checking out Willoughby’s past prior to his appointment, she continued, “I think they should investigate his past.
Willoughby was publicly reproved by the California State Bar for using money from his clients’ trust account for his personal expenses. And according to public records in another one of his cases—Lightfoot vs James Construction Company—he failed to competently perform the services for which he was employed and because of that the Lightfoots’ case was dismissed, and Willoughby paid them $8,000.00 by way of a settlement.
This reporter called Willoughby’s office seeking his comments. By press time, there had been no response.