In a significant victory for residents’ First Amendment rights and a
rebuke to Mayor Pam O’Connor and City Manager Rod Gould, a federal
judge in Los Angeles has ruled that Elizabeth’s case against the City
and Gould may proceed toward trial. (see earlier story below),
Elizabeth was summarily dismissed from a city position after Mayor
O’Connor intervened, improperly — and in violation of Santa Monica
and state law — to pressure Mr. Gould to fire her.
Ms. O’Connor was retaliating because eight years ago, Elizabeth had
donated to a SMCLC mailer which called attention to Ms. O’Connor hav-
ing accepted campaign contributions from 13 Macerich Company execut-
ives before an impending Council vote on their development project.
Elizabeth also wrote an article critical of the City’s failure to re-
lease public documents about the development project.
We know Ms. O’Connor interfered in Elizabeth’s appointment, and that
it was personal, because she admitted it to the SM Daily Press.
Ms. O’Connor’s petty payback to Elizabeth has now exposed the City and
its taxpayers to potentially significant financial damages, including
paying for Elizabeth’s legal fees as well as for punitive damages.
The Court stated that “[Elizabeth’s] speech sought to expose the public
to potentially illegal activities” [by O’Connor and the City]. And, if
there is any doubt that O’Connor and Gould could have reasonably thought
their conduct in firing Elizabeth was OK, the Court found that “a reason-
able person would have understood [Elizabeth Riel’s] termination was unconstitutional.”
The Court concluded that “Because [the City and Gould] offer no justif-
ication for [Elizabeth’s] termination independent from her protected
speech, the Court finds…[Elizabeth] sets forth valid claims for First
Amendment retaliation against both the City and Gould.”
Indisputably, Santa Monica lost the most highly qualified candidate for
the job. Elizabeth was hired over 220 other applicants after many
rounds of interviews. She was only fired after Pam O’Connor interfered.
She was then vilified by the City, as though the entire sordid episode
was her fault. This was Santa Monica politics at its worst.
SMCLC is very pleased that Elizabeth’s lawsuit to vindicate her rights
is moving forward. You can be sure that you will hear more from us in
this very important election season.
Victor Fresco, Diana Gordon, Sherrill Kushner and Jeff Segal
Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City