So much for the “fiscal conservatives” in Tustin; Blogger Jeff Gallagher had a terrific post yesterday that was overshadowed by the Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality on Heatlhcare Reform. The issue in Tustin — $600,000 budgeted for “legal services” and the cost of two lawsuits against Tustin Unified has now exceeded $800,000.
The lawsuits aren’t about good policy. The lawsuits are about Council member Jerry Amante inserting his influence over the school system in Tustin of which he has almost no claim.
From Jeff’s post:
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.
So while Mr. Amante wants to play nickel and dime gotcha with a recovering cancer survivor in Deborah Gavello, he’s counting on taxpayers to pay no attention to that man behind the curtain so willing to blow through the city’s legal budget on a legal folly that is nothing more than a question for power. When TUSD wins, they should sue the city of Tustin for legal fees so that money can go back to the classroom where it belongs.
The ones being screwed here are the taxpayers of Tustin — twice. And Amante is doing the screwing. Time for a new set of screwdrivers.