Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo sue over leaked audio recording
Two prominent Los Angeles political figures are suing over an incendiary secret recording that upended City Hall nearly a year ago, according to filings posted on the Superior Court’s website.
Los Angeles City Councilmember Kevin de León and former Councilmember Gil Cedillo lodged separate lawsuits Friday, saying the recording did permanent harm to their reputations and careers. Both lawsuits allege invasion of privacy and negligence and seek damages.
Cedillo’s lawsuit targets the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, along with Karla Vasquez and Santos Leon, who were both employed by the powerful union coalition when the conversation was recorded in October 2021.
De León’s lawsuit names only Vasquez and Leon as defendants, not the federation.
The recording at the federation headquarters became public nearly a year ago, drawing furious protests and prompting the resignation of two others who attended the meeting — council President Nury Martinez and Ron Herrera, the then-head of the labor federation. The conversation, which centered on the city’s once-a-decade redistricting process, included racist and derogatory remarks about Black Angelenos, Oaxacans and others.
A bombshell recording has thrown L.A. politics into chaos. What was really being discussed? L.A. Times reporters and columnists pick it apart, line by line.
Although the filing does not yet appear to have been processed by Los Angeles County Superior Court, Cedillo’s legal team provided a receipt issued by the court in response to the filing. De León’s lawsuit also appears in the court system’s processing queue.
Both lawsuits argue that the respective defendants “surreptitiously recorded” the October 2021 meeting without knowledge or consent. Both filings also portray the release of the audio as a “textbook ‘October surprise’” designed to inflict maximum reputational damage.
Cedillo lost his bid for reelection in June 2022, several months before the release of the audio. De León finished third in the June 2022 mayoral primary, failing to make the runoff, and is running for a second council term in the March 2024 primary.
A spokesperson for the labor federation, a nonprofit group that represents unions from across the county, declined to comment. Cedillo and De León also did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Lawyers for Vasquez and Leon did not immediately offer comment.
Neither Leon nor Vasquez, who are married, has been publicly identified as suspects in the criminal investigation into the surreptitious recording. At the time of the recording, Vasquez served as an executive assistant to Herrera, the leader of the federation, and Leon was the organization’s accountant.
Los Angeles police served a search warrant at their Eagle Rock home in July. Leon’s computers were taken by police, according to an individual who has knowledge of the warrant but was not authorized to speak publicly. A spokesperson for the Los Angeles Police Department said earlier this week that there were no updates on the police investigation into the tape recording.
The L.A. County Federation of Labor put an employee on leave after searching his laptop and finding sound editing software, a source familiar with the inquiry said.
The lawsuits were brought by two separate legal firms, with Geragos & Geragos representing De León and Kabateck LLP representing Cedillo.
Both filings include similar language. They argue, among other things, that comments heard in the recording were taken out of context or featured Spanish slang that was improperly translated.
“But the most glaring fact omitted from the public discourse over this conversation is that Mr. Cedillo never made any comment that was even remotely offensive during the illegally recorded conversation,” Cedillo’s lawsuit said. “He was, in fact, silent during those comments.
De León’s filing includes the same sentence, with “Mr. De León” instead of “Mr. Cedillo.”
“Nuance was ignored, context was hijacked and a frenzy was manufactured,” De León’s lawsuit said.
Cedillo’s filing alleges that his “entire lifetime of service was jettisoned because he failed to object to comments made by his colleagues.”
After the audio became public, Cedillo denied making racist statements but apologized for remaining silent.
“It is my instinct to hold others accountable when they use derogatory or racially divisive language. Clearly, I should have intervened,” he said at the time.
Cedillo did not step down in the wake of the uproar, instead deciding to avoid council meetings for the remainder of his term. In December, hours after he left office, he released a three-page letter in which he said he was a victim of “cancel culture.”
“I publicly apologized for not cutting off my colleagues when their comments crossed a line,” Cedillo wrote. “But to resign for staying silent, with no look at who said what in that room, and ignoring the totality of my work and history? That is unacceptable.”
De León has repeatedly apologized for his part in the incendiary conversation. Unlike Cedillo, Martinez, and Herrera, who all declined interview requests after the recording came out, De León talked extensively to media outlets and answered questions about what was said in the closed-door meeting.
At one point in the audio, Martinez accused Mike Bonin, a white council member, of using his Black son as an accessory. De León responded that it was like when “Nury brings her Goyard bag or the Louis Vuitton bag.”
De León later apologized for that “flippant” remark, saying the comment was actually directed toward Martinez and “her penchant for having luxury accessories and luxury goods.” The councilman also told Noticiero Univision anchor León Krauze that he was horrified when Martinez used the phrase “parece changuito” or “like a monkey,” when talking about Bonin’s son and that he “felt horrible” and “failed to speak up.”
After Martinez launched into a lengthy discussion of Bonin’s son “bouncing off” the walls of a float during a parade and how he “needs a beatdown,” Cedillo appeared to say that the boy needs a “pinch.”
Later, when Martinez employed stereotypes long used against Oaxacans in Mexico and in the United States, saying she sees a lot of “little short dark people” in Koreatown, Cedillo chimed in and stated, “Puro Oaxacans. Puro Oaxacan Korean.”
“Not even like Kevin — little ones,” said Cedillo, making a reference to De León.
Cedillo is seeking punitive damages, general damages and compensatory damages, among other things, saying the release of the audio caused him to lose income and job offers. De León’s complaint states that he was the “target of verbal assault, ethnic slurs, death threats, being spat on, and permanent damage to his reputation and political future.”
Cedillo’s lawyer, Brian Kabateck, declined to discuss the lawsuit, saying in an email that it “speaks for itself.” De León’s lawyer Kimberly Casper did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Times staff writer Emily Alpert Reyes contributed to this report.
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