The City Was Right

It is nearly July and we understand that one of the lawsuits between the city of Tustin and the Tustin Unified School District are due for trial in Orange County Superior Court. So, we thought we would check on the status and the current cost-to-date for the taxpayer. You may remember, in a conversation I had late last year with Mayor pro tem, Al Murray, the city sent out an official press release, saying the lawsuits were costing the taxpayer nearly a million dollars. At the time the press release came out a year ago, the city claimed TUSD had spent about $600,000 on the lawsuit and the city had spent another $350,000 “defending itself.” Total cost? $950,000. Not being satisfied with spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a power play by Jerry Amante, the city subsequently sued the school district again for not opening a new school for the promised purpose.

So, it should come as no surprise that, in the past year, the two entities did indeed surpass the million dollar mark. What may surprise you is that the city, in a recent request for information, informed me their legal fees for the lawsuits has risen to $810,000. That is an increase of $450,000 just to defend two lawsuits for the past year. Most of the cost, $740,427.98, has been billed by Woodruff, Spradlin & Smart, the city’s contract law office that furnishes City Attorney, David Kendig. Keep in mind this is only for one issue and not for general services. I recall reading in the proposed 2012-2013 budget, legal services were budgeted at $600,000 for the entire year. We’ll see how that works out.

The rest of the billing has gone to Remy Moose Manley, an environmental law firm located in Sacramento that appears to work mainly for government entities. They billed the city $61,380.74. Smaller amounts went to public relations firm and a firm that specializes in school facilities planning. We heard that the city is planning to use a different law office to push their latest lawsuit, where venue was changed to Riverside courts because the city did not think they could get a fair shake here in Orange County. No billings from that firm yet.

What is really interesting is that, since the latest offer and response by the city and the district respectively, there has not been any progress. In April, when the first of the lawsuits was scheduled for trial, the judge decided to continue it until after his vacation. So, both sides have had the opportunity to approach the other with further mediation. The issue has become so contentious between the two, neither side is talking to the other. So, we have to wonder what the city council is talking about in closed session when they list the lawsuits.

The upcoming trial, if there ever is one, will be the turning point. TUSD is strong in their belief they do not require permitting from the city of Tustin. If they win at trial, and that is likely given all the facts of the case, both sides should sit down and settle the remaining issues. One of the points in the city’s November offer to the district was that both sides would pay their own legal fees. Apparently, Jerry still doesn’t get the fact that it is the taxpayer who will be on the hook for both parties. That in itself should prompt them to continue attempts to resolve their differences. Unfortunately, it looks as if they are fast headed to the two million dollar mark and beyond, with the only clear winners being the lawyers.

Because of Jerry Amante’s shenanigans, there have been other indirect costs as well. Remember when we got a new city manager in David Biggs? Things looked bright and promising for the city and for a quick settlement to the lawsuits. Apparently, that’s where Biggs and Amante collided, however. The result was a fast exit for Biggs, who now heads up the city of Carson and who took a sizable chunk of the Tustin general fund with him in a golden parachute. And, we got stuck with the anachronistic Bill Huston again until Jerry could find the right yes man in Jeff Parker. That marriage seems to be working for the time being. Parker was given the added incentive by our fiscally prudent city council of a start date that allows him to take the most generous pension available, even though he did no work for the city during that time. Go figure.

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About Jeff Gallagher

My day job is a peace officer for the 2nd largest law enforcement agency in Orange County. I live in and love Tustin where my family and I have resided for the past 17 years. I am a highly moderate libertarian that despises hardcore Republicans, Democrats and anyone else who is not willing to compromise for the good of the people.

Posted on June 28, 2012, in Local Government, orange county, politics and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Informed citizen

    The City of Tustin’s CEQA lawsuit against the schools was a complete waste of taxpayer money. It was obvious from day one that TUSD had NOT violated CEQA one iota. The cost to taxpayers of prosecuting and defending this lawsuit that had absolutely no legal basis accomplished NOTHING for any of the taxpayers paying the bill. The City then increased costs by hiring a Sacramento law firm, and then, distrusting our own Orange County courts, moved the case to Riverside.

    What will the City gain? Zip. Zero. Nothing.

    What will the taxpayers pay? Hundreds of thousands in more legal fees.

    This will be the second City lawsuit loss to the school district in the past month. Earlier, they tried to use the public records act to get around their own agreements restricting discovery in the “grading” lawsuit. When TUSD refused to allow this, the City took them to court in OC. The judge turned the city down flat. Another complete waste of tax dollars by the City!

    No wonder City debt is up five fold in the past eight years or so.

  2. We found out after the fact that the CEQA lawsuit initiated and moved to Riverside was a complete bust for the City. As soon as we can find more information (the city isn’t talking), we will have a post out on it.

    Thanks for the reading and commenting.

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