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L.A. council hires firm to defend suit by ex-pension appointee

August 17, 2011 |  6:48 pm

Sean Harrigan The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to spend up to $50,000 to respond to a lawsuit filed against the city by one of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s top pension appointees.

Sean Harrigan, president of the Fire and Police Pensions Board from 2006 to 2009, is demanding that the city reimburse him for legal bills that he racked up after he was swept up in pension probes by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the state attorney general’s office.

The SEC sent Harrigan a letter in 2009 seeking records on his private financial matters, including any income he received above $10,000 while on the pension board, which oversees a $14-billion investment portfolio. The agency also asked him to disclose any money or "material benefits" that he received from companies that did business with L.A.'s public safety pension agency.

The council voted 12 to 0 to hire an outside law firm in the Harrigan case. Councilman Dennis Zine said he is not happy about hiring an outside firm and asserted that Harrigan stepped down in response to allegations of "improprieties" by pension board members. "It bugs me a lot because we’re spending taxpayer money" to respond to Harrigan’s lawsuit, Zine said.

"I did it out of necessity, not out of desire," Zine said, explaining his vote.

Harrigan did not respond to a phone call from The Times. In his lawsuit, he said he was never accused of wrongdoing while on the pension board. He also said he had cooperated with investigators in the two probes, help that generated significant legal fees.

Harrigan also argued that reimbursement of his legal fees would be in the best interest of the public because it would "encourage other individuals to agree to serve on similar boards and share their expertise" with the city. The lawsuit does not say how much money Harrigan is seeking.

As part of Wednesday’s vote, the council also agreed to pay an additional $400,000 to the law firm that is defending the city in a lawsuit filed by Brenda Lee, a city firefighter who alleged that she faced discrimination, harassment and retaliation as a result of her race and sexual orientation.

Although Lee was awarded $6.2 million, that ruling was reversed on appeal and the case has now been sent back to trial court for further review, according to city officials.

RELATED:

Ex-pension board member wants public to pay fees

Villaraigosa pension board appointee quits in SEC inquiry

CalPERS moves to beef up disclosure rules for outside marketers

-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall

Photo: Sean Harrigan at a meeting in Sacramento in 2003.

Credit: Robert Durell / Los Angeles Times

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