LOS ANGELES — Michael Weinstein, who leads the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, claims in a new lawsuit that Los Angeles County has retaliated against the organization for its advocacy work with getting Measure B passed and criticism of county officials’ alleged misuse of federal funds.
In a suit filed this week at Los Angeles Superior Court, the AHF contends that as the group campaigned for Measure B, the Safer Sex in Adult Industry Act, in the November 2012 general election campaign, county officials “ramped up their threats,” demanding the foundation pay $1.7 million within two weeks for allegedly overbilling the county.
The latest suit waged by AHF says that Los Angeles County has a “longstanding policy and practice of retaliatory conduct” against the group, which has contracted with the county to provide outpatient services since 1998.
Compared to other health providers, the county directs “frequent and invasive” audits of the foundation, Weinstein said in the AHF’s 45-page complaint that names Los Angeles County Public Health directors Dr. Jonathan Fielding and Mario Perez, as well as county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.
“Defendants’ retaliatory conduct includes a conspiracy to create incorrect audit findings and demand millions of dollars from AHF based upon these findings, and defendants’ discussion of these incorrect audit findings in front of other providers and the public at large,” the suit says. “Defendants carry out these practices in order to intimidate providers into submission and prevent them from speaking out critically against the county.”
The AHF in the suit says Weinstein’s public activism for getting Measure B, as well as the Los Angeles City ordinance, generated amongst Los Angeles County officials “considerable opposition and animus” toward the AHF because they did not want to enforce Measure B.
“In fact, members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors were outspoken in opposition to the passage of Measure B,” the suit says. “Supervisor Yaroslavsky, claiming to be concerned about the ‘enforceability’ of the law, pronounced worry that the measure would be ‘a mockery from the starter’s gate.’
“Supervisor Yaroslavsky also claimed that adult film production is a ‘niche that generates only about 1.5 percent of Los Angeles County’s sexually transmitted diseases.’ Further, explaining her vote to not adopt the measure, Supervisor Gloria Molina stated, ‘I’m trying to understand why we would, as a county, take on the huge responsibility of workplace issues.
“We’re all in favor of porno stars using condoms, but the issue is liability for the county. Why would we add to this burden?”
The AHF continued with claims that the board of supervisors has declined to defend the constitutionality of Measure B in Vivid Entertainment’s suit that currently is being litigated and is pending at U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.
Vivid and co-plaintiffs Kayden Kross and Logan Pierce filed a suit in January, seeking to topple Measure B, which requires porn actors to wear condoms in the county and mandates special porn permits, as well as blood-borne pathogen training.
The AHF also alleges in the latest suit that the county misuses funds under the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resource Emergency Act, cutting off vital services to patients and favoring healthcare providers who make campaign contributions to county officials.
The AHF says that the county cut off funding for the foundation’s Antelope Valley unit so that Yaroslavsky could redirect $1.2 million in funding to the Tarzana Treatment Center. “[M]any of the principals of Tarzana are significant campaign contributors to Yaroslavsky,” the suit says.
Weinstein made similar claims against Los Angeles County in a federal suit in December, but last month a judge refused to restrain the county from auditing the organization.
In the suit, the AHF seeks an injunction against the county for enforcing or making demands of $1.7 million in contract funds, as well as general, compensatory, special and punitive damages for violations of the California Constitution and the California Whistleblower Act.