COSTA MESA — For the past couple weeks I’ve been trying to track down how a draft copy of a confidential report from Talon Executive Services regarding their investigation of City employee Huy Pham’s March 17, 2011 suicide at City Hall was released to Jon Cassidy of the Orange County Register. The City’s Attorney Jones & Mayer engaged the services of Talon to prepare for possible litigation related to the death of Huy Pham.
When I initially asked the City for an explaination of how the report was released to the Register, Tom Duarte, through spokesman Bill Lobdell told me; “The draft report from Talon does fall under attorney-client privilege. We are extremely displeased that the Orange County Register gained access to it and are taking appropriate measures to tighten our security.”
When I tried to follow up and get clarification as to who had access to the report in the first place I was told on August 8th by Bill Lobdell that; “City Attorney Tom Duarte is on vacation… will forward to you what I get as soon as I get it.” Having heard nothing from Lobdell on the matter since then, I sent him a follow up email on Thursday. Today I got another statement from Duarte through Lobdell.
“Jones & Mayer and Talon had access to the draft report related to the Huy Pham death. The review was launched by my office because of anticipated litigation. It had not been given to the City of Costa . Any information released about the draft report was unauthorized. The apparent disclosure is an internal matter that my office is handling and not subject to disclosure.”
When I spoke to Assistant General Manager of Orange County Employees Association Lisa Major, she was less than pleased with the City Attorney’s delayed and insufficient statement on the matter.
“This leak of sensitive information by City contractors is inexcusable,” Major said. “OCEA reiterates its demand for an independent investigation into the leaked document. If Jones & Mayer is one of the only two entities with access to the report, its employees are clearly unable to conduct a credible independent investigation into the matter.” Major went on to demand that the City “at least temporarily suspend its relationship with Jones & Mayer until an independent investigation is completed and the source of the leak is identified.”
Major indicated that she would be sending a letter to Costa Mesa CEO Tom Hatch today to reiterate OCEA’s displeasure over the handling of this matter. When I get a copy of the letter, I will post it here.
This situation demonstrates the serious problems that can occur when government functions are contracted out to the lowest bidder. You end up with nobody to carry the ball when the contractor is on vacation, and you have no direct control of what happens with confidential information and reports. Jones & Mayer provides city attorney services to a number of Orange County cities and government entities. Every agency that contracts with Jones & Mayer, should reconsider their relationship with this firm.