New ‘Bully’ Charge Hurled At City

Resident Alison Smith of Hanscom Drive stands in her yard before a civil-warrant-mandated search of her property for alleged code violations, Oct. 17, 2019. Photo by Skye Hannah

South Pasadena resident Alison Smith, currently involved in litigation with the city in regard to a sewage spill on her property and a subsequent warrant-mandated search for code violations, has told the Review that city attorneys are now pushing for details of her personal therapy history in what she says is an effort to discredit her case and bully her.

“Them going after my therapy records is just another way of them trying to scare, trying to bully,” said Smith, who also made a bullying allegation in October, in an interview with the Review.

But the city this week denied Smith’s most recent claim, telling the Review that obtaining the therapy records is “not a bullying tactic” but rather “standard practice.”

That denial came in a statement delivered by the city’s interim public-information officer, Rachel McGuire, and reviewed by City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe.

Following Smith’s October allegations, the city reached out to local media and also denied it was engaging in bully tactics.

Smith’s home on Hanscom Drive experienced a sewage spill in the backyard of the property in January 2018. Although she says the city, initially, verbally acknowledged responsibility for the spill from a city-owned pipe, she said the city soon backed off its support.

After running into roadblocks with the city for not having her property cleaned and deemed safe, she hired a lawyer who filed a claim against the city, seeking recovery of some $260,000 in costs plus $200,000 for emotional distress.

On Aug. 21, 2019, Smith went public on the issue at City Hall during a City Council meeting to ask for a resolution. She was then served a civil-abatement warrant on Oct. 17, 2019, by South Pasadena Police officers for alleged code violations on her property. The next day, code inspectors hired by the city conducted an hour-long search of her property while an officer stood guard outside the home.

Last month, Smith said her South Pasadena-based therapist, Dr. Ron Malloy, contacted her with news. He informed her that the city’s attorneys served him a subpoena, pushing him to release all of her therapy notes from their sessions going back several years, including before the spill and search occurred. The subpoena was handed to Malloy’s attorney, and Smith said the city is now pressuring that attorney directly.

According to Smith, Malloy reported that his attorney said, “in 19 years, she’s never seen a court sanction against a therapist, a motion to comply like this.”

“She asked my therapist, ‘Is this woman a criminal? Why are they treating her like this?’” said Smith.

Resident Alison Smith sits in her living room as building official Craig Melicher photographs her Hanscom Drive home during a code inspection on Oct. 18, 2019. Photo by Skye Hannah

“Those were the same words that came out of the police officer that served me the abatement warrant as well. When he handed it to me, he said, ‘I’ve never in the 17 years of me being on the force, I’ve never delivered one of these in a civil case. You’re not a criminal, are you Ms. Smith?’ I said no. He said, ‘I don’t know why I’m here.’

“Why they’ve chosen to criminalize me in this case, I’m not quite understanding, nor is my support team around me,” said Smith.

According to Smith, her own Pasadena-based attorney, Edward Torres, asked her if she had anything to hide.

“I said no, but this is personal,” said Smith. “There’s nothing in there that would expose any wrongdoing or anything in a case, but this is very personal and I feel intruded upon. … I don’t have anything to hide except that that stuff is personal and it’s my heart and it’s my soul.”

Torres said that, in claims that allege emotional distress, it’s both “ugly” and “pretty routine” for the defense counsel to press for records.“In defense, council generally will do things by pushing the envelope to try to make the plaintiff, like Alison, feel bad, maybe feel a little bit embarrassed,” said Torres. “They want her to feel that way so she won’t push so hard against them. It’s like a scare tactic.”

The city reported that in Smith’s initial complaint against the city, she sought damages for emotional distress and identified her therapist in discovery.

“The City followed up, as is customary in civil cases alleging emotional distress, and subpoenaed her treatment records,” McGuire said in the statement. “Ms. Smith has authorized her therapist to release her treatment records to the City. This is the standard process of investigating allegations of emotional distress and gathering evidence for the civil case.”

McGuire reported that the city recently received a second claim from Smith for $2.5 million, claiming her federal and state constitutional rights were violated in the search.

As for Smith, she said she is taking it one day at a time.

“I’m just putting one foot in front of the other and trying to gather the strength and constantly telling my kids that some things are worth fighting for,” said Smith.