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LA taxpayers to finance councilman's defense against sexual harassment lawsuit (updated)

Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar's legal defense in a sexual harassment lawsuit will be paid for by taxpayers.
Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar's legal defense in a sexual harassment lawsuit will be paid for by taxpayers.
Mae Ryan/KPCC

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Ten members of the Los Angeles City Council agreed Friday to use public money to pay the legal bills of a colleague facing a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit from a former employee. 

The city council voted in closed session to pay Councilman Jose Huizar's legal bills, which so far have totaled more than $40,000. The council agreed to pay his bills up to $200,000. 

The City Attorney's office cannot defend Huizar in this case because its attorneys are also defending the city of Los Angeles, which was named in the lawsuit. 

The councilman is being sued by his former deputy chief of staff, Francine Godoy, for allegedly making sexual advances toward her and then retaliating when she rejected him. Huizar denies the allegations, though he admits the two had an affair. 

The city could seek repayment of the legal fees if the councilman is "found liable for actions occurring outside of the course and scope of his duties as a member of the Los Angeles City Council," according to a statement provided by council President Herb Wesson. 

Before she filed her lawsuit, Godoy submitted a complaint to the city's Personnel Department. That triggered an internal investigation into her allegations. A panel made up of two retired judges, two law professors and a member of the American Arbitration Association looked into the case and submitted a confidential report to all 15 members of the council. 

"The unanimous recommendation of the Special Committee to the council was that 'no further investigation (is) needed,'" according to Wesson's statement. 

Huizar's attorney said the Special Committee's findings prove Godoy's claims are baseless, but her lawyer pointed out that the committee members never heard her testimony.

Absent from the vote were councilmen Bill Blumenfield, Gil Cedillo, Mitch Englander, Paul Koretz  and Huizar. 

It's not the first time the city has paid for outside counsel to defend a council member. Twenty years ago, the city shelled out $1 million to defend then-Councilman Nate Holden in two sexual harassment lawsuits.