Council candidates on L.A.’s Westside bash each other over their legal careers

An increasingly bitter battle for Westside representation on the Los Angeles City Council reached new intensity on Friday when attorney Erin Darling accused his opponent, attorney Traci Park, of using a case in which she represented the city to “defend the… Racism” came out of Anaheim against a city employee who accused a supervisor of using the “N-word.”

Park responded by accusing Darling of resorting to “sleazy smear tactics” and saying she had “no choice but to react.” She slammed Darling for representing a number of unsavory defendants, including one charged with gun possession after he was initially accused of raping his victim at gunpoint in a public bathroom just hours after his release from prison to have.

The volleys from the two candidates marked a sharp escalation in the competition for representation for Council District 11, which stretches from Pacific Palisades to Los Angeles International Airport, a month before Election Day. Darling, 41, and Park, 46, had previously focused primarily on the issues of homelessness, public safety and the environment.

The two were a study in sharp contrasts. Darling is a former Green Party member. Park is a former Republican. Park wants to expand the Los Angeles Police Department. Darling has called for more mental health professionals. Darling defied the city’s anti-camping ordinance. Park supported it.

The legal careers of the two Democrats had taken a bit of a backseat before Thursday, when Spectrum News 1 reported on a 2020 case in which Park — a partner at the law firm Burke, Williams & Sorenson — defended the city of Anaheim after a black associate a fleet supervisor had been charged with using the “N-word” and other offensive taunts.

Legal documents filed in the case show that Park tried to get a judge to dismiss the case, arguing that plaintiff Andrew Harrell’s attorneys had not provided sufficiently accurate information about the discrimination their client allegedly suffered.

“The only thing that comes close to a concrete claim is the claim that [the supervisor] had used the ‘n-word’ in front of the plaintiff,” Park’s brief said. “However, further details on his use of the word, including context, date or frequency, are missing. While an allegation of use of that single word is weighty, Plaintiff does not allege that the term was ever addressed to him or that his use was attacked.”

Park’s filing added that “not every expression of a racial slur in the workplace” violates discrimination laws. She said the US Supreme Court has ruled that “in order to be punishable, harassment must be sufficiently serious or pervasive to alter the victim’s employment conditions and create an abusive work environment.”

An Orange County Superior Court judge dismissed Park’s arguments and allowed the case to proceed, according to court orders told The Times by the Darling campaign. Citing the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the judge described the n-word as “perhaps the most obnoxious and inflammatory racial slur in English… a word expressing racial hatred and bigotry.”

The judge said the amended lawsuit filed by Harrell’s attorneys “reasonably establishes a claim of harassment.” Harrell settled the dispute with Anaheim last year and accepted a settlement payment. His attorneys did not respond to a request for comment.

“It’s never okay to defend racism, even in court,” Darling said in a statement on Friday. “The use of these racial slurs has no place in our workplaces and Traci Park’s actions in defense of racist employers are inexcusable.”

Park called it “outrageous” that Darling claimed she had defended racist language. As contract attorney for the City of Anaheim, she said she only investigated Harrell’s allegations to determine their truthfulness and advise the city on how to respond.

“I do not, under any circumstances, condone the use of racially charged language or harassing or discriminatory behavior,” Park said. She called Darling a “failing candidate whose message isn’t resonating with CD 11 voters and who has no intention of addressing the disastrous problems created by his biggest supporter. [retiring Councilman] Mike Bonin.”

Park said she never intended to bring up Darling’s legal history until he tried to demonize hers. She said she did no more or less in the Anaheim case than other attorneys responding to similar litigation.

Both campaigns presented summaries of cases handled by their opponent to The Times.

Darling’s camp blasted Park for defending the town of Hemet when a police officer was accused of kicking a man in the face during an arrest; the city of Alhambra, when a firefighter accused them of restricting his right to freedom of expression; and a giant shipping company, Dynamex, which was accused of misclassifying employees, resulting in a loss of wages and benefits.

Park said she was a junior associate 16 years ago when she worked briefly on two procedural motions in the Dynamex case. A lawyer on the other side of this case, representing workers, confirmed that Park played a minor role.

Park’s campaign said he represented an MS-13 gang member accused of a machete murder in Darling’s work as a federal public defender and in his private practice. “about a dozen people” involved in a methamphetamine ring; a man convicted of sexually abusing a teenage victim and parents trying to keep custody of their children when the adults were accused of running a prostitution ring at their home.

In an interview, Park focused on a 2016 case in which an alleged gang member named Edgar Alexander Lobos was accused of assaulting a woman in a Lincoln Heights public restroom just hours after he was released from prison.

The Park campaign synopsis contained legal briefs in which Darling attempted to obtain evidence against Lobos, then 27, who was being thrown out of court on a gun possession charge. Darling’s motion demanded that both a search and an interview with Lobos be ruled inadmissible because he said they were conducted illegally.

His brief argued in part: “Here the police officers had no probable reason to believe that Mr Lobos had committed an offence, as it had not been shown that the complaining witness’s identification of Mr Lobos was reasonably reliable.”

Darling’s lawsuit came after rape and other felonies against Lobos were dropped in Los Angeles Superior Court. The Venice-based attorney defended Lobos in the federal gun case relating to the alleged rape, according to a brief he filed in the case.

Lobos pleaded guilty in 2017 to being a felon in possession of a firearm and was sentenced to 77 months in prison.

“Rather than accept the testimony of a woman – who was traumatized after being raped with a gun to her head in a bathroom in a public park – [Darling] attacked their credibility… It’s disgusting,” Park said in an interview.

Darling said he prides himself on being a criminal defense attorney representing indigent defendants.

He dismissed Park’s view of the Lobos case as “categorically wrong,” adding, “I represented my client in a federal case in which he was charged with being a felon in possession of a gun and nothing else. I have never seen this woman, never questioned her, and never attacked or criticized her. All state charges of any kind of sexual violence against my client had been dropped by the time I wrote the suppression motion [evidence].”

“In the request for suppression,” Darling continued, “I questioned the police’s failure to properly conduct a photo lineup when questioning my client. He went to jail for the gun. He was not convicted of sexual assault, and those charges were not the case where I was the attorney.”

Activists on opposing sides of the CD 11 race have solicited their views on the litigation.

Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles tweeted a message saying it was “concerned by the clear anti-blackness displayed by city council candidate Traci Park” in the Harrell vs. Anaheim case.

Freddy Escobar, the president of United Firefighters of Los Angeles City, accused Darling of “playing the racing card to distract from the failed policies that have decimated the Westside.” Council candidates on L.A.’s Westside bash each other over their legal careers

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