IMMEDIATE PRESS RELEASE
In a ruling issued late on March 13, 2012, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Jane L. Johnson issued a detailed 17-page order directing the Board of Trustees of the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) to throw out its February 8, 2012 order debarring FTR International, Inc. and its President, Nizar Katbi, from “bidding, contracting, subcontracting, or performing work on any District project for a period of five (5) years.” Based on a thorough review of the evidence considered by the Board, Judge Johnson found that the Board abused its discretion in debarring FTR and Katbi because the evidence did not support the charges against them. Judge Johnson also found that the Board violated the constitutional rights of FTR and Katbi by refusing to rule on any of their defenses, and by rejecting FTR and Katbi’s request that the debarment hearing be held before a neutral arbitrator, rather than a committee of the Board. In so ruling, Judge Johnson specifically found that the Board harbored an “unacceptable probability of actual bias” against FTR and Katbi.
On October 17, 2011, the Board issued three charges against FTR and Katbi, accusing them of submitting a “false and fraudulent” pay application in August, 2008, providing a “false and fraudulent” form in June 2009, and performing substandard construction on the Allied Health and Science Building at LACCD’s Valley College, which was occupied in 2008. In reversing the first charge, the Court noted that the undisputed evidence showed that LACCD itself advised FTR to submit the pay application at issue and then tried to “punish them for complying.” On the second charge, which accused FTR of submitting a “false and fraudulent” form stating that its work on a project was 100% complete, the Court ruled that the undisputed evidence showed that LACCD negotiated a settlement that relieved FTR of any further responsibility, which was consistent with the 100% completion form that FTR submitted. On the third charge of substandard work on the Allied Health building, the Court found there was “no basis to conclude that FTR failed to construct the [building’s] exterior” in compliance with the plans and that FTR “cannot have conducted ‘poor workmanship’” because it followed the plans and was precluded from making repairs.
On the constitutional ruling, the Court directed LACCD to hold any further hearing before a neutral arbitrator, not a Board committee. In response to FTR’s argument that there were equitable defenses that should preclude any hearing on two of the charges, Judge Johnson called for further briefing on her authority to prohibit renewed prosecution of these charges and set another hearing for April 12, 2012. FTR’s President, Nizar Katbi, said of the Court’s ruling, “I feel very pleased and vindicated by the judge’s powerful ruling in favor of FTR. It has been our position all along that these were trumped-up charges designed to deflect the public’s attention away from real management problems inside LACCD’s construction program. We hope to continue the high quality construction work we have done for more than 28 years.
“Judge Johnson’s ruling is a bulwark against government abuse,” said FTR’s attorney, Theresa M. Traber. “It sent the message that public entities, like LACCD’s Board, do not have unfettered discretion to block qualified businesses from participating in public projects, and cautions them that they must do so only when justified by the facts and only through fair and constitutional procedures.”
FTR and Mr. Katbi have filed a lawsuit against LACCD’s Board seeking damages for their unlawful efforts and violation of constitutional rights. The action is currently pending the final ruling from the Los Angeles Superior Court.
Traber & Voorhees