Date: Jun 02, 2007

Day of Week: Saturday

Edition: R,E,S,F

Section: LOCAL

Page: B-1

Length (in lines): 698

Headline: Lawyers' bills mounting for ethics investigations

Byline: Tanya Mannes


Captions: Published: CHULA VISTA'S LEGAL BILLS


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

Act request.

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

his attorney.

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.


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

Total: $411,261