|Terri Highsmith v. City of Alameda|
Last night I went to the podium and discussed information regarding Teresa Highsmith, our City Attorney. Things that are easily found anywhere on the Internet. Teresa, as our Colantuono & Levin city attorney, was fighting for her job. The City Council was looking around for a better deal elsewhere, and had conducted a long search that drew the interest of over 40 lawyers and firms, with a top notch rival lawyer in the house and ready to take away her job. The pressure was on for Teresa, and I had a topic she didn't want discussed. Here is the first portion of what I said:
According to a January 11, 2011 article in the San Francisco Chronicle, our current Colantuono & Levin City Attorney, Teresa Highsmith, had been placed on indefinite leave by the City of Alameda. The vote to do so by the Alameda City Council was 5 to zero. My question here is did Colantuono & Levin make the City of Sierra Madre aware that the attorney we were sent to replace Sandra Levin had been put on indefinite administrative leave by another city?
Teresa Highsmith's response to this was that she had not been forced from her position in Alameda, rather she had left that city because it just wasn't up to her high ethical standards. Or something. A reply that had absolutely nothing to do with the question. And when Mayor Moran, who apparently had heard the question a little better than the City Attorney, asked City Staff if they'd ever been told that Highsmith had been put on administrative leave by Alameda, nobody replied. Something that I took as a tacit admission that they knew nothing about it, and that Colantuono & Levin did not inform its client that the attorney they had sent our way was damaged goods.
This is how the San Francisco Chronicle described what happened (click here):
Alameda's city attorney, Teresa Highsmith, took a job as city attorney in Barstow on Dec. 20 without quitting her six-figure-salary job in Alameda. Soon Highsmith will be collecting two paychecks.
"We were blindsided," said Alameda City Councilwoman Lena Tam. "We're not sure what happened. Right now we're still in a fact-finding mode."
A week after Barstow approved Highsmith for the job, the Alameda City Council voted unanimously to put Highsmith on paid, indefinite administrative leave. The council did not say why. She earns $191,568 plus benefits in Alameda, where she's worked for 13 years.
Here is the second part of what I had asked at the podium about this matter.
Was the City also made aware that Ms. Highsmith sued that City, one that had employed her for 13 years?
Ms. Highsmith's response was that she has never sued a client, and that the mere thought of filing a legal action against something that had employed her would be unthinkable.
Fortunately we live in the age of the Internet, and the truth can almost always be found. In the upper left hand corner of this page is a copy of the first page of Highsmith v. City of Alameda. It can be viewed in its entirety by clicking here.
Now being a legal layman I might not have picked up on a nuance. Even now after having made calls to some folks familiar with these things the distinction, if there is one, seems rather slight. But what would be the difference between a claim against the City of Alameda, one that, if carried to fruition, would bring significant financial penalties, and a full on lawsuit? Either way, Highsmith did bring legal action against the City of Alameda. No matter what language you speak.
Here is how a news site called Action Alameda News (click here) describes it:
Today, former City Attorney Teresa Highsmith filed a claim against the City of Alameda for personal injury damages pertaining to her dismissal on December 28th, 2010.
In a claim filed by her attorney, William Rapoport, of Redwood City, Ms. Highsmith claims the following injuries: wage loss, fringe benefits loss, emotional and physical injuries, damage to her reputation and general damages based upon statutory violations and constructive wrongful termination. She blames Mayor Marie Gilmore and Councilmember Lena Tam for her injuries. A copy of the claim was obtain by Action Alameda News from the City under the California Public Records Act.
In a three page supporting exhibit, Highsmith explains that her termination was “motivated in substantial part by an illegal motive, namely, in retaliation for [Highsmith] reporting illegal and criminal behavior” by Councilmember Lena Tam, regarding allegations of official misconduct against Tam. Highsmith also writes in her claim that in mid-December of last year, Mayor Gilmore told her that she didn’t wish to work with her, and that she, Highsmith, would have to leave her position as City Attorney.
Highsmith asserts that she will pursue her claim on the basis whistleblower protection laws under the Labor Code and the Government Code, the Brown Act, and “several common law torts” including defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negative infliction of emotional distress.
Sounds like a lawsuit to me. You will notice that in this article Highsmith's departure is reported as being a "dismissal." Hardly the word you'd use to describe somebody leaving their place of employment over idealism or reasons of personal ethics.
After all of this nonsense concluded Josh Moran, Nancy Walsh and John Harabedian voted to rehire Teresa Highsmith as City Attorney for the City of Sierra Madre. Shoddy government in action. The law firm that mishandled One Carter, the DSP, the water rate hike and conducted the seminal "suites versus units" Kensignton debate was back on the gravy train. Apparently in Sierra Madre poor performance, ineptitude and a hostile relationship with the truth are no barrier to the big money just as long as you got your agenda right.
The fix was in, but how could it not be? The Mayor of Sierra Madre had even allowed Theresa Highsmith to list his name as a reference on her application. I am not certain the many law firms that had spent time here expecting a fair shake were very impressed. Welcome to Mayberry counselors, just watch out for the chickens.
John Capoccia and Chris Koerber, to their eternal credit, cast votes against making so grievous an error. Something that made Highsmith's job performance review and resulting rehire something less than a standing ovation.
The rest of the evening was consumed with going through a mostly sham "water process," one that had no other real purpose than laying the foundation for another water rate increase. It will be the second such rate hike since Josh Moran and Nancy Walsh took office. Couple that with the stated intention of the 3 usual suspects to raise Sierra Madre's utility tax rate to a California high of 12%, and you can see where their true priorities lay. Everything they do is done with the intention of getting their hands deeper into your pocket. Despite all the noise it is really all they ever do.
Just another wacky evening with Sierra Madre's City Council.