The city of Lynwood recently hired attorney Anthony Willoughby as its city attorney, apparently without a thorough review of his past as a practicing attorney or ignoring his questionable practices relative to some of his past clients. The California State Bar, which is the regulatory agency with oversight over the state’s lawyers, has had to admonish Willoughby in the past for the inappropriate use of his clients’ trust funds.
According to the State Bar records, Willoughby deposited settlement drafts into his client trust account then issued checks for his personal expenses in the amount of thousands of dollars. The document then stated, “You improperly maintained funds belonging to you or your law firm or otherwise commingled funds in your client trust account. You committed the above-described acts in willful violation of your oath and duties as an attorney under disciplinary case law and/or Business and Professions Code section 6106 and Rules 4-100 (A) and 4-100 (B) (4) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.” The public record also states that Willoughby stipulated (signed and agreed) to attend the State Bar Ethics School and client trust-account record-keeping course as part of his conditions of probation by the State Bar.
Currently and in the recent past, Lynwood has been inundated with more than its share of problems—from threatening recalls of the city council members to the conviction of one its former mayors for criminal wrongdoing. Some residents are now questioning why, in that kind of tainted environment, would the city of Lynwood hire a city attorney with questionable ethics to be its chief law officer? The “Los Angeles Sentinel” sought the answer to that question from some of the city’s officials and the general public. Calls were made to Lynwood City Hall and to Assemblyman Hector de la Torre, the state representative in whose district Lynwood is located.
When confronted with details of some of Willoughby’s misdeeds, taken from the public record, Councilmember Leticia Vasquez said, “I am not familiar with those things, but I will get back with you.” But she did not.
Then the same information was presented to Roger Haley, the city manager who said, “Actually this is my third week with the city.” And when he was asked if it’s customary to hire a city attorney without doing a thorough background check, he responded, “I would not comment on that only because he was hired prior to me coming here and I just don’t want to put the mayor and the council in a spot not knowing what they did to make that selection. I don’t know what is process that took place.”
Haley then promised to give the mayor and council members the number to the “Sentinel” for them to call back. As of press time, no calls were forthcoming from any of Lynwood’s officials. Calls to assembly-member de la Torre were not returned either.
The agreement for legal services between Willoughby and the city of Lynwood states in part, “Retainer work will be provided by the (Willoughby) Firm …and shall be billed at a rate set forth therein, but in no event exceed $35,000 per month…”
In addition to the aforementioned charge listed in State Bar public records, in the case entitled “Lightfoot v. James Construction Company” Willoughby also “failed to competently perform the services for which you were employed and as a result, the Lightfoots’ case was dismissed by the Court.” Furthermore, the document continued, “…you (Willoughby) paid the Lightfoots $8,000, by way of settlement.”
Questions now for the city of Lynwood are: does it need this kind of attorney to represent the city? Did the city officials who were responsible for Willoughby’s selection, know of his checkered past as a lawyer or did he try to hide his past by suppressing the details about his reproval by the State Bar?
Lynwood residents Kimberly Miller commented, “I support the recall of the Lynwood City Council members who approved Willoughby’s appointment. With the allegations against him for commingling his client’s trust funds with his personal funds, and the action taken against him by the State Bar, I think he should be terminated when the recall election passes.”
Another resident, Aide Castro said, “I am not aware of Willoughby’s background or what he is being paid but the mayor and the city council members do not care about his background because they are used to corruption.”
When Willoughby was running for the 48th state assembly district, the feelings against his candidacy ran so high that an attorney wrote a column about him entitled: “Anthony Willoughby—Unfit to Serve as Assemblyman for the 48th District.”
Also former insurance commissioner—now the Lieutenant Governor of the State of California—at that time, said of Willoughby, “It was reported that a candidate for the 48th Assembly, Anthony Willoughby, had some questionable things happen in the past with the State Bar. How that individual deals with that really speaks to whether they’re going to be successful or not. They have to be straight forward, honest and not to try to hide things.” The question being raised is; was Willoughby hide the truth of his past from the city of Lynwood in order to be appointed as city attorney of Lynwood?
And former assemblyman Jerome Horton made these comments about the Willoughby reproval, “I knew about it when it first occurred. When “the Sentinel” brought it out, I thought it was good that the paper is being balanced in disclosing all the information that’s out there, relative to the candidates. I don’t think negative campaigning is good for the people, but facts are important.”