Does Mission Viejo city attorney speak with a forked tongue?

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turn off the heat

In the San Bernardino County City of Upland questions on RW&G billings were raised by Stephen Dunn, their Finance Director, who sent a note to city manager Rob Quincey regarding this concern on December 2, 2010. Most of the charges related to litigation between Upland and SB County that dated from 2002 to 2010. 

Item #14 A of the Dec 13, 2010 Upland City Council Agenda reads “Review and evaluate professional services contract city attorney as per government code section 54957”. In the Minutes containing his reporting out of that Closed Session item attorney Curley is listed to having said “re items 14 A, 14B and 14 D. Instructions was given with no reportable action.” 

On Dec 14th Sandra Emerson, Staff Writer of the Press Enterprise wrote the following:
UPLAND – “The Upland city attorney’s contract with the city may be on the line as concerns over billing practices have intensified among city officials. William Curley’s contract was a topic of discussion during the closed session meeting Monday night at City Hall. Although there was no action taken, it has become clear that top city managers are troubled by the amount the city is being charged for legal services. Curley has been the city attorney since 2003. His law firm, Richards Watson Gershon, has been the city’s legal counsel since 1993. A Dec. 2 memo from Stephen Dunn, the city’s finance director, to City Manager Robb Quincey outlines several issues with Curley’s and the law firm’s billing practices. Dunn said he could not comment on the billing practices. Dunn had noted several instances in which the city may have been billed amounts that were “excessive and possibly frivolous.” In a e-mail sent to Mayor John Pomierski and City Council members on Dec. 2, Quincey expressed his concerns about Curley’s legal fees. Over the past several months, the city’s legal bills have approached $250,000 per month with staff having virtually no control, he said. Quincey said in the e-mail he has been concerned since October about “Mr. Curley’s personal attacks on me” in retaliation for questioning the billing practices. According to multiple sources close to the situation, Curley spoke to the FBI regarding Quincey’s involvement in a settlement made by the city with an Upland police officer.” 

While that is not the focus of this post it does raise a red flag. The first time this concern was made public was during their December 13th 2010 City Council meeting. Upland did convene a Special Meeting of their City Council on January 4th with five listed Closed Session Items. Before I provide the Report from that Closed Session let me shift gears and quote from the January 3rd meeting of the Mission Viejo city council where anyone can see and hear my remarks and the response to same from attorney Curley on our web site. 

During the Jan 3rd meeting of the Mission Viejo City Council, under Item #28 in which taping of our Closed Session was to be dropped I made the following statement. “With all due respect Bill (Curley) there’s a cloud over your head (relating to billing) in the city of Upland that may or may not have an impact here.”  I went on to say that “the fact that you are under some form of investigation now is troubling to me. For that reason I would like the taping to continue.” 

As soon as I sat down Bill jumped in and stated. “If I might quickly respond. I am not under investigation at all. It is the other officials. The city council has reviewed any of the allegations brought up by those who are under investigation, studied them carefully, took no action. The comments I was delivered by the council was ‘you are and you will be’ our city attorney. So, trying to gin up a non existent cloud.. I take offense to but I do consider the source.”  We will revisit Bill’s words about his discussion with the council on this Upland Closed Session issue. 

The very next day in the upland meeting Closed Session Item 3 Part E reads. “Public Employee Performance Evaluation. Title of Employee: City Attorney (Contract officer pursuant to a Professional Services Contract as specified in California Government Code Section 54957 (b) (4))” 

4. Report from Closed Session. Skipping the first four items let me focus on part E, dealing with his contract where city attorney Curley where “he also stated there was no action taken relative to Closed Session Item E.” 

Notice that he did not report out that this Closed Session item has been closed, dismissed or that he received glowing commendation from the entire council as he responded to me the night before. 

According to Upland City Clerk Stephanie  Mendenhall, on January 10th the council created an ad hoc committee consisting of council members Brendan Brandt and Ken Willis to review Bill Curley’s legal services. Based on that action I would not publicly brag about them being very satisfied with my legal performance and that this concern has been resolved to their satisfaction. 

To recap. If the Upland council said “you are, and you will be, our city attorney” let me add that on January 6th I submitted a Public Records request for all written communication relating to RW&G/ Bill Curley’s Upland billings from Jan 2010 to date. According to the city of Upland there is no written record of any such statement of support nor did he report out that this item, reviewing his billing practice, is closed. 

Was there a Brown Act violation in Closed Session where that statement, if in fact it happened as alleged, I can’t say. It was never reported out by Mr. Curley. If he was given a clean bill of health you bet I would have said so. The key for me is the Upland ad hoc committee formed AFTER the Jan 3rd Mission Viejo meeting where Bill gave our city council the impression that he was in the clear. 

While his RW&G billings for Mission Viejo are not as high as Upland, from 2005 through April of 2010 we paid $3,231,9321.80 for his firms services. In my view, he may have failed to caution the council on some questionable litigation such as suing the Saddleback Unified School District where Superior Court Judge Ron Bauer rebuked Mission Viejo for our groundless lawsuit. Following is the Register report of that episode.  

I’ll leave it to the readers to determine if I off base.

About Larry Gilbert