Elizabeth Riel

The Los Angeles County District Attorney has declined to file charges over the allegedly improper firing of Elizabeth Riel citing expiration of the statue of limitations.

In a letter, Deputy District Attorney Sean Hassett acknowledged receipt of an allegation that Councilwoman Pam O’Connor requested termination of Riel’s employment with the city in violation of the City Charter provision that expressly forbids elected officials from interfering in employment decisions.

“The hiring and firing of employees is a civil matter left to the sound discretion of the City of Santa Monica and, when necessary, the civil courts,” he said. “The alleged ‘criminal misconduct’ took place on May 23 and May 24 2014. Regardless of whether or not this conduct is truly criminal, the statue of limitations has expired. Accordingly we will take no further action.”

Riel was offered the position of Communications and Public Affairs Officer in 2014, however, then City Manager Rod Gould rescinded the offer the next month for what was described as “personnel reasons.”

Riel filed a lawsuit against City Hall and Gould claiming that her First Amendment rights had been violated. Gould, who retired from the City in 2015, was eventually dropped from the case but the City settled for $710,000.

Documents from the lawsuit showed communication between then Mayor O’Connor and Gould with O’Connor criticizing Riel as a political enemy and someone that O’Connor would not work with.

In the court documents, Gould said he rescinded the job offer because he felt Riel has not disclosed relevant information about her past political activity. Both Gould and O’Connor refuted the allegation that O’Connor was responsible for Gould’s decision however SMCLC has maintained that O’Connor’s actions violate the City Charter.

SMCLC filed a formal complaint after their review of the court documents in August of 2015 and the Santa Monica City Attorney’s office referred that complaint to the District Attorney on September 3, 2015.

In response to the District Attorney’s letter, SMCLC issued a statement condemning the City for failing to act more quickly.

“To trigger a criminal investigation, sufficient facts must be given to the District Attorney.  But in this case all of these facts were in the hands of City staff,” said their statement. “Once the City saw that Ms. O’Connor was intimately involved in Ms. Riel’s firing it should have either: 1) immediately sent the documents to the District Attorney, or 2) made the documents available to the public so that someone, such as SMCLC, could review them and file a complaint within the required statutory time.”

SMCLC has repeatedly asked for an investigation into the Riel case and while the city has not committed to a full scale investigation the City Council recently approved a future discussion item related to the case. Council will hire an outside advisor to conduct an independent review and make a public presentation regarding best practices for cities.

editor@www.smdp.com