Date: Jun 02, 2007
Day of Week: Saturday
Length (in lines): 698
Headline: Lawyers' bills mounting for ethics investigations
Byline: Tanya Mannes
Credit: STAFF WRITER
Captions: Published: CHULA VISTA'S LEGAL BILLS
Town: CHULA VISTA
CHULA VISTA -- Chula Vista spent $411,261 in the last 14 months for
outside lawyers who represented city officials questioned by the district
attorney's newly formed Public Integrity Unit.
District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis created the unit in early 2006 to
investigate public corruption allegations throughout San Diego County.
To date, the unit has indicted one person -- Jason Moore, an aide to
former Chula Vista Mayor Steve Padilla -- on perjury charges.
Since March 2006, the city paid 11 law firms to represent employees who
testified before the unit's criminal grand jury, according to information
The San Diego Union-Tribune obtained through a California Public Records
City Attorney Ann Moore provided the bill totals but not the attorneys'
invoices or contracts, saying they are protected by attorney-client
Officials with the District Attorney's Office also didn't disclose details
of their investigations. Until an indictment is issued, grand jury
proceedings are kept confidential to protect the reputations of those
The city is required under state law to provide legal representation to
its officials and employees who are involved in litigation related to
their official duties.
"We have no choice but to hire private attorneys to perform whatever type
of legal work is necessary," Moore said.
She said the work can't be done in-house "because our office represents
the city, not the individual employees or officials."
City Councilman Rudy Ramirez, who took office in December, said that he
was alarmed when he learned how much the city had spent in legal bills and
that it was "a questionable use" of public resources.
"There needs to be some accountability on these secret investigations and
the resources attached to them," Ramirez said. "We need to get some
answers from the District Attorney's Office about whether or not these
investigations are legitimate."
Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox said most of the decisions to hire outside
counsel were made before she took office in December.
"Since much of this was acted on by a previous City Council, it is pretty
hard for me to know whether it is justified," she said.
Cox noted that the city can force an employee or official to pay back the
money "if the person was found to be acting outside the scope of their
employment, or doing something illegal."
Councilmen John McCann and Jerry Rindone did not respond to requests for
comment. Councilman Steve Castaneda declined to comment on the advice of
Prosecutor Patrick O'Toole, who heads the Public Integrity Unit, has
focused much of his energy on Chula Vista. He subpoenaed nine witnesses in
seeking the indictment of Jason Moore, which was part of a larger
investigation involving more witnesses, according to grand jury
transcripts released after the indictment. Moore pleaded not guilty in
Last month, Castaneda said the unit had initiated three separate
investigations of him in the last year. He accused Dumanis of targeting
him for political reasons and pressuring him to resign. He has not been
charged with a crime.
City attorneys in San Diego, Imperial Beach, Solana Beach, Lemon Grove,
National City, Del Mar, Santee, Carlsbad, Oceanside and San Marcos said
there have been no Public Integrity Unit investigations in their cities.
Chula Vista's legal bills come as the city prepares to cut its budget
because of a slowdown in new home construction. Cox recently called for
austerity, saying she is prepared to fund "little other than core
services" for several years.
In a prepared statement, Dumanis did not comment specifically on the Chula
Vista investigations, but defended the Public Integrity Unit.
"The public has a right to expect that their public officials are not
breaking the law," Dumanis said. "Protecting and vindicating this right is
one of the most important priorities in the District Attorney's Office,
and the Public Integrity Unit continues to ensure that this is done."
O'Toole declined to comment beyond the official statement.
CHULA VISTA'S LEGAL BILLS
Baker & McKenzie, $37,676
Benjamin L. Coleman, $14,790
Cooley Godward, $6,105
Coughlan Semmer & Lipman, $49,782
Irell & Manella, $19,782
Knut Johnson, $13,413
La Bella & McNamara, $51,945
Luce Forward, $67,458
McKenna Long & Aldrich, $71,842
Morrison & Foerster, $48,987
Frank Vecchione, $29,481