A former top prosecutor in the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office was properly demoted in the wake of allegations that he sexually harassed a female co-worker for more than 2 1/2 years, a judge ruled Tuesday.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant denied a petition by Deputy District Attorney Edward Miller of West Covina to restore him to a grade 4 position within the office. Miller filed the petition in June 2021 against the Los Angeles County Civil Service Commission, saying he was not given a fair chance to give his side of the story before the panel.
Miller was demoted in January 2019 and asked for a hearing before the commission to challenge the reduction in rank to a grade 3 prosecutor, his petition states. A hearing officer in May 2020 found eight of the nine allegations brought against him to be true and the discipline imposed on Miller to be appropriate, and the commission upheld those findings in March 2021, according to the petition.
Miller, who helped get seven city officials convicted in the 2010 Bell corruption scandal, was suspended for allegedly sexually harassing fellow prosecutor Karen Nishita in 2018, given the reduction in rank and transferred to a branch office.
In his ruling, Chalfant noted that Miller contacted Nishita on numerous occasions at work and discussed personal matters, prompting Nishita to tell him not to contact her for work-related matters except through email, according to the judge.
“Her credible, contemporaneous journal documents the numerous invites and personal, non-work contacts Miller had with her, as well as her angst and discomfort in these encounters,” the judge wrote. “It was clear that Miller used work issues as a guise for contacting her about personal issues.”
Although Miller maintained he had to contact Nishita about work matters, this could have been done by email as she requested, the judge wrote.
Miller “continued to speak to her about friendship, thinking about her all the time, asking her to lunch, calling her and physically touching her,” Chalfant continued.
Although Miller maintained that he could be a grade 4 and not supervise other attorneys, thereby preventing any future harm to others, a grade 4 must have the ability and the downgrade to a grade 3 was appropriate, the judge said.
In his petition, Miller denied committing sexual harassment.
“He (Miller) has also maintained that the employee was untruthful and exaggerated her story over time,” the petition stated. “He assumed that his employer would act in good faith to investigate his defense.”
Miller asked to be reinstated as a grade 4 prosecutor with full back pay and benefits.
According to Miller, six of the eight allegations should have been dismissed by the hearing officer because the notice of discipline was served more than three years after the alleged causes for discipline.
In addition, the hearing officer did not allow Miller the right to cross-examine witnesses and his conclusion that the discipline was appropriate was based on an erroneous reading of the class specification bulletin for Deputy District Attorney grade 4, according to the petition. Miller alleges that the county violated his due process rights by failing to conduct a reasonable investigation into evidence that he maintained supported his defense.
In September 2019, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a $300,000 civil settlement with Nishita.