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Criminal Justice

Sheriff Villanueva Steps Into County's Conflict With Law Firm Over Mandoyan Case

An image of Alex Villanueva being sworn in as LA County Sheriff in 2018. He is in his uniform -- khaki short and green pants -- with his right arm raised. The Sheriff's Department patch is on his upper right sleeve and he has a pistol holstered on his right hip. His left hand rests on a bible being held by his wife, Vivian, who is a Sheriff's Deputy and is in uniform. A woman in black judicial robes is reading the oath of office from a large black folder.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva at his Dec. 3, 2018 swearing in. A former Sheriff's official said Villanueva tried to get Carl Mandoyan rehired before he took office.
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L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva is stepping into the middle of a legal fight between the county and a law firm that had represented him over his rehiring of a deputy who had been fired for domestic violence and dishonesty.

The firm — Quinn, Emmanuel, Urquhart and Sullivan — represented the sheriff until January, 2020. Last fall, it demanded the county pay it for its work. The county refuses, saying it never authorized the sheriff to hire the private firm.

The sheriff says in a sworn declaration that the county had given him permission to retain the attorneys.

The county had sued Villanueva over his rehiring of Caren Carl Mandoyan. The county argued the move was illegal, and in 2020 a judge agreed. The sheriff and Mandoyan have appealed that ruling, according to Villanueva's attorney, Stanley Friedman.

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How Did It All Start?

Mandoyan, who joined the force in 2006, later started dating a fellow deputy. His girlfriend ultimately accused him of domestic abuse.

Mandoyan denied her allegations, but a judge issued a temporary restraining order against him.

Then-Sheriff Jim McDonnell fired Mandoyan in September of 2016, citing numerous policy violations pertaining to his conduct toward his girlfriend, domestic violence, and dishonesty/false statements. Mandoyan, for example, did not tell the department he was forced to surrender three guns under the restraining order.

Mandoyan appealed his firing to the County Civil Service Commission, which upheld his termination. He then went to court seeking a judge's ruling voiding his firing.

The New Sheriff Rehires Mandoyan

Mandoyan had joined Villanueva’s 2018 campaign as a volunteer. But he wasn't just any volunteer. He played a key role in rallying deputies to support Villanueva, and served as the candidate's personal driver.

Villanueva was elected in November of 2018 and took office on Dec. 3 of that year.

He immediately convened a special "Truth and Reconciliation Panel" of senior department officials to review Mandoyan's case. It issued a report on Dec. 27, 2018, saying Mandoyan had acted "in an irrational, unprofessional and impulsive manner" and "brought discredit to himself and the department," but still concluded that he should be rehired.

Villanueva reinstated Mandoyan the next day.

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The move prompted the Board of Supervisors to ask county counsel to review the rehiring, and in Feb. 2019, Villanueva was informed that the county had determined that his action was illegal and therefore void.

Villanueva refused to heed the order, and the county went to court to try to enforce it, sparking the ongoing legal fight.

A Revelation Undermines The Sheriff’s Narrative

On Jan. 30, 2019, Villanueva said at a news conference that he never had a "predetermined outcome" on Mandoyan. "If the evidence supported termination, he would not be back at work, period," the sheriff declared.

That contention was called into question when the Los Angeles Times revealed in March 2019 that Villanueva pressed to get Mandoyan rehired even before he took office.

The Times reported that a former longtime senior Sheriff’s official quit over what she considered to be an "unethical" and "unprecedented" order from a top Villanueva aide to facilitate Mandoyan’s reinstatement before Dec. 3, 2018.

Alicia Ault, who was chief of the department's professional standards and training division, said in a court deposition that the sheriff-elect's chief of staff told her on Nov. 26, 2018 that it was Villanueva's "No. 1 priority" to get Mandoyan back on the force before the new sheriff's swearing in.

Such a sequence of events would have left the impression that Mandoyan was brought back to work by outgoing Sheriff McDonnell.

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