Thursday, August 30, 2012

Win or lose, the City Attorney is on the clock



Good piece on the Mirkarimi fiasco by Steve Jones in last week's Bay Guardian. After a nice analysis of the laundry list of original charges against the Murk---all but one thrown out by the Ethics Commission---Jones notes the crucial role of the City Attorney's office:
 
Lee's decision to overcharge Mirkarimi could be a costly one. The City Attorney's Office won't release expenses associated with ongoing legal actions like this one, but most indications are that it will run into the millions of dollars, perhaps many millions depending on how Mirkarimi fares in the courts if he is removed and challenges the city's actions. According to the City Attorney's Office, the official misconduct proceedings against former Sup. Ed Jew in 2007 cost the city $381,505 in legal fees, but that was a relatively short and simple proceeding, with just one Ethics Commission hearing and couple of state court appearances before the case was settled. By contrast, the case against Mirkarimi has already entailed five months of detailed exchanges between the two sides' attorneys, covering a wide array of legal issues, and months-long investigations of matters only tangentially related to the core charge.
 
Just so. Two lawyers from the City Attorney's office worked full-time for months to destroy Mirkarimi before the Ethics Commission, which is not only expensive out-front, but it will be even more expensive if/when the city loses. It's not clear whether Mirkarimi's lawyers will get reimbursed for their hours if they succeed before the Board of Supervisors, but they will surely present the city with a large bill if/when they appeal a board decision to the courts if it goes against Mirkarimi.
 
The thing to keep in mind about the City Attorney and the army of lawyers in that office: Once the political decision is made to litigate, they don't have to worry about litigating a bad case, because they are on the clock. City taxpayers are the only losers, since they pay the salaries of city lawyers during the litigation and pay the petitioners when the city loses. 
 
They can overcharge, as in the Mirkarimi case, or they can simply pursue a political case even when they know they are going to lose, as in the Bicycle Plan litigation. The City Attorney knew in June, 2006, when Judge Warren issued the first injunction, that the city would eventually be ordered to do an environmental review of the 500-page Bicycle Plan. Instead of cutting its losses---that is, city taxpayers' losses---and settling the case early in the litigation, the city pushed it for purely political reasons: Dennis Herrera didn't want to alienate the Bicycle Coalition before his campaign for mayor.
 
Even after Judge Busch ordered the city to do an enviromental review of the Bicycle Plan---and the city was already doing the EIR---Herrera filed three motions to lift the injunction before the EIR was completed, citing a bogus safety emergency on city streets as justification. 

The city has already paid our lawyer for the first phase of the litigation, and it will have to pay her again for successfully defeating those politically-motivated efforts to lift the injunctionYour tax dollars at work. 

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