Monday, September 21, 2009

Can California Cities Wake Up On Lawsuit Settlements?

About a month ago we ran an article entitled, Cities That Don't Defend Themselves Get Sued Anyway. The idea being that once people who might consider suing a place like Sierra Madre discover that we'd prefer to settle rather than fight, they're apt to swarm all over our situation like ants on a lollipop.

The example I used was the sad settlement worked out with the Police Officers Association (POA) by the apparently endlessly naive Mayor Enid Joffe. One of the reasons given for this so-called Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) was to end the lawsuits against Sierra Madre initiated by the POA. And in order to settle those lawsuits our elected officials, led by Mayor Joffe, basically gave the POA everything they wanted, including the significant wage increase they demanded. All funded by a Utility User Tax increase. Which this year increases to its maximum of 12%. Be sure to check your cell phone bill.

And did this achieve the goal of labor peace with the Sierra Madre Police Department? While in the process ending the most onerous part of that seemingly endless fight, lawsuits? Of course not. They are suing us more often now than they ever have before. As an attempt at labor peace Enid's "MOU" has been a notable failure. Fortunately this agreement ends fairly soon, as does the UUT increase that made it possible. And I wish the POA all the luck in the world trying to pull that one off again. Because luck, and a lot of it, is pretty much what it will take.

Nathan McIntire, a staff writer at the Pasadena Star News, had the great foresight to quiz a couple of skeptical folks involved in the question of legal assaults on City governments for his article Lawsuits against southern California cities leading to settlements more often. And much to my surprise and delight the two people Nathan quizzed on the matter have positions quite similar to that of The Tattler. That being the more you settle with people who sue a City, the more lawsuits that City is likely to find itself attracting.

Here is a passage where Nathan interviewed Michael Kaddatz from the Independent Cities Risk Management Authority on this matter:

For a city, or any large employer, a settlement may appear to make more financial sense than continuing a court battle. But settlements can also attract more lawsuits, according to Michael Kadditz, interim general manager of ICRMA. "In general there seems to be an increasing number of plaintiffs that, with proper legal counsel, soon come to realize just having an ounce of truth might get you into the ball game of getting you some reward," Kaddatz said.

Bob Blackwood runs HR and RM (Human Resources and Risk Management) for Monterey Park. He is equally adamant about slapping down nuisance lawsuits rather than settling, and for the same reason. Settling only makes things worse.

"If a city becomes known for settling claims relatively early then I think that dynamic can be created. It becomes attractive for individuals to file a claim," Blackwood said. When liability is in question they "aggressively defend" their case ... Blackwood has been dealing with litigation risk management as a municipal employee for the last 25 years; the best way to avoid lawsuits, he said, is by creating an inhospitable climate for litigation ... Strings of lawsuits come "when a city exposes itself because of some practice and it opens the door and the plaintiffs' attorney sees it and it becomes a feeding frenzy."

Now many here in Sierra Madre can remember when then Mayor Rob Stockley and the rest of the Gang of Four claimed it was the prospect of lawsuits that drove them to settle the One Carter disaster with Dorn Platz. Who, once given the keys to destroy the hillside, went on to sue us over and over again. Just like the Police did after Enid Joffe's "historic agreement" with the POA was signed. Apparently for those parties offering an olive branch was taken as an indication that there was even more to be gained through lawsuits.

Hopefully we are not about to make the same mistakes with the current owners at One Carter. Or with Stonehouse, either.

34 comments:

  1. One more thing you can thank Bart Doyle for. He is responsible for getting Sierra Madre to join the ICRMA. Anyone who has lived in Sierra Madre long enough remembers that this was never a problem before Bart Doyle came to town.

    However, there is one more thing to remember. Sierra Madre never had this problem before Colantuono & Levin were hired as City Attorneys...By Bart Doyle and his lackies. Charles Martin, Sierra Madre's City Attorney for 46 years (forced out by Doyle, Stockly and Hayes) shut down every bogus lawsuit filed against the City.

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  2. The threat of lawsuits certainly certainly served the purposes of Mr. Doyle and his boys in cases like One Carter. It became a kind of shibboleth among the dirty bunch. "We can't afford to fight these lawsuits. What choice do we have but to settle?"

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  3. One Carter is a monument to the consequences of this City refusing to defend itself against a predatory developer. Maybe the name of the site should be changed to Mount Bart.

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  4. A little bird has told me the C.C. has learned a lesson about trying to resolve issues thru negotiation, will make a 180, and "lawyer up" everytime an attorney is hired to "negotiate" by by threat of a law suit.

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  5. RE12;12AM...I do believe you hit the mark!Not only dump the attorneys but how about some of "Doyle"cucarirachas that inhabit City hall.

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  6. The city should either through donations or budgeting set aside money for a war chest to fight lawsuits. Once the POA, developers, and others know the city has the resources to fight them, the lawsuits will stop. Mean while we need to urge the city council to fight and not give into the developers/POA. When someone asked if a Stonehouse/Carter agreement was reached would the lawsuits end forever? Sandy smiled and said "only the current lawsuits would go away." In other words the developer will get what they want and then sue the city for other things in the future.

    The attorney for the residents opposing the TUP for Alverno seems pretty sharp on the legal finding that must be met in order to grant a TUP. I bet if the city gives Alverno the TUP on Tuesday night, there will be some type of legal action against the city in the very near future.

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  7. 7:47 - From your keyboard to God's ear. But if it is that law concern listed on the agenda, their site claims that they prefer settlement over legal over going to court. Though they will back it up with court action if necessary they say.

    Honestly, a headsman with a black cowl, double edged axe and chopping block might be the style we need to go worth. It worked for 100s of years in Eurpose.

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  8. 7:47

    I've learned not to trust "little birds." I'll believe it when the results prove it.

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  9. But remember that Rob Stockly and the Gang of Four only stated that cost of lawsuits as the reason. Nice publicly accepted fiscal thinking, right? The real reason was because they wanted to allow the development to go ahead and the rest was made up. The City was winning that lawsuit and the rest was made up.

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  10. Crazy conspiracy theoristSeptember 21, 2009 at 12:36 PM

    The city was winning the lawsuit.

    And the "development" of One Carter is in it's third year of infrastructure.
    Anybody walked by the site lately? It's a big dirt pit. They are scrambling to get it together for the mud/rain that is coming.
    The work started with Dorn Platz day laborer crews 4 years ago? 5 years ago?

    Never a public apology from Buchanan, Stockley, Torres and Joffee. Just an endless infrastructure project on a scrapped ridge above big pile of dirt.

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  11. You said it Dr. Staccato!

    That's one of the main reasons why Charles Martin was forced out. Because he was WINNING against bogus lawsuits, most especially from Dorn-Platz and the Congregational Church.

    Colantuono & Levin were brought in specifically to take a dive, so to speak, every time a lawsuit was filed against the City of Sierra Madre. No wonder why so many other cities have fired them over the years.

    Anyone care to venture as to how many cities have FIRED Colantuono & Levin?

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  12. Same thing in a classroom. If a teacher does not get control of the kids in September, forget it. It will be a battle for respect until June.

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  13. 1:02, do you know? Got a list? Sierra Madre's legal situation is awful and we should do something about it.

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  14. Hello!...What do you do when an employee continuously falls on their face.You FIRE them!This is NOT a new concept!

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  15. Pasta, great idea, a warchest.
    Let's put all of the "consultant" fees that have been carved out of the budget into that war chest, and put anything that requires a consultant through a rigorous and very public decision process. Postpone anything that must have a consultant that can legally be postponed. That should give us lots of ready cash.
    Be nice to have back the quarter of a million dollars plus that the Gang of Four wasted on the Destroy Downtown Plan.

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  16. Sandy Levin has always said "We have ever confdence" that we will win, so... huh?

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  17. It looks like Sandy Levin and Enid Jofe might both the same definition of winning.

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  18. ever notice that Sandy and Enid had the same barber?

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  19. Maybe the lawyer who was so sharp for the Alverno neighbors is available. Or maybe Charles Martin could come back. Surely we can do better than our current lawyers who are making a ton of money and keeping the lawsuits going on forever.

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  20. working person

    Yes...making a ton of money while bleeding Sierra Madre dry. The same reason South Gate was taken over by the State several years ago.

    After an audit, the State Controllers office found that South Gate's legal expenses went from around $480,000 to over $5 million a year.

    No wonder why we have to keep taxing ourselves. Michael Colantuono's private wine cellar isn't full yet.

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  21. 2:20 great comment.
    Can anyone on the residents research team find out what our legal expenses have been year to year over the last decade? Is that information available at the library, or on the city web site? Maybe if nothing else, warrents could be added up from old agendas.

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  22. Another Anon....they also have the same catch phrase.

    "Show Me The Money!"

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  23. 2:37, maybe you have some knowledge that I don't, but Enid never struck me as greedy. Just slow and easily manipulated.
    Sandy seems very smart.

    2:30, excellent suggestion. Maybe more of the residents would pay more attention if they saw the changes in our legal bills.

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  24. Sierra Madrean....I didn't know Dirts were still reading this Blog.

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  25. 3:11, I don't see what part of my comment makes me a dirt. Or maybe you are one of those who has dirt on the brain?

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  26. SM, not so much dirt on the brain, though that may be the case, more just hoping to kick up a fuss. The posters like Anonymous @3:11 want to derail the conversation into personalities and away from topics - like the state of Sierra Madre's legal woes. Watch the fireworks so you won't see the emptying bank account.

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  27. I remember when Colantuono & Levin were hired, and the deal was that we were needing more and more legal help for tougher & tougher cases. But if they were the best, and we paid them top dollar, why are we still handing out so much money for legal fights all these years later?

    Never saw a similarity between South Gate and Sierra Madre before, but it looks like we've got one now. How much have Colantuono & Levin made since they've been representing us?

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  28. If you want to know how much they have been paid, go down to city hall and formally request the information. The information is public and you are entitled to it. It is call the Freedom of Information Act. You may need to pay for photocopies but not the research time. Let us know what you find out. Enquiring minds want to know.

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  29. Unfortunately, there is the otherside of the lawsuit situation. We have been trying to work with the City regarding our project for many years now. We have been through 5 City Managers and 5 Directors of Development. It is as if the City is daring us to take the matter to court. We have asked on numerous occasions that the City Council give us the same courtesy that they have given to the lawyers at 1 Carter. We do not have the backing of a 450 person law firm. We only ask that the City Council instruct the City Administration to follow the LAW! By the way still waiting for that meeting!Jeff Hildreth

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  30. When you think about it,it is really a shame the pro city faction on the City Council is unable to function with the threat of another law suit;but of course that was the plan.Hopefully,there can begin a move towards correcting this outrage.Dump Colantuono and Levin before they bury us!

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  31. (Wannabe) Sierra Madrean @ 3:14....

    Which would you rather admit to being, a Dirt or a moron?

    Anyone that defends Enid Joffe after all the money she and her friends ripped off from Sierra Madre taxpayers is either one or the other.

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  32. 5:16, calling someone "slow and easily manipulated" strikes you as a defense?

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  33. It could be worse. Somebody might have called her "fast."

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