Santa Paula Times

Council majority approves paying
final legal costs related to lawsuit

November 12, 1999
Santa Paula City Council
Paying legal fees relating to the conflict of interest litigation against two council members caused some discussion at the Nov. 1 meeting of the City Council. The cost of the fees were split between General Fund and Redevelopment Agency reserve funds and resulted from the lawsuit filed by attorney Richard Francis of Oxnard and Santa Paulan John Stockdill against council members Jim Garfield and Don Johnson; also named in the suit was the city and its Redevelopment Agency.Johnson, who was fighting conflict of interest charges stemming from the publication of city advertisements and legal notices, voluntarily paid the city back almost $40,000 paid to the Santa Paula Times, which Johnson co-owns. Garfield, a Realtor, settled the lawsuit related to his voting on the city’s proposed expansion without monetary cost or rescinding his vote on the city’s General Plan.At issue was about $26,000 owed to city retained attorneys to be split between General Fund and Redevelopment Agency reserve coffers.Before the vote on the payment, Johnson asked City Attorney Phil Romney to detail the costs.According to the staff report by Assistant City Manager Julie Hernandez, the payment “will be utilized to pay past legal fees that were necessary to bring the case to a close.”Romney said the attorney’s bill is “Solely related to the defense costs of the city and Redevelopment Agency. . .it has nothing to do with you or Mayor Garfield’s,” lawsuit.
Vice Mayor Rick Cook said the attorneys had “already done the work and now we have to agree to pay them. . .”Councilwoman Laura Flores Espinosa cast the lone nay vote, a move she repeated later in the meeting when the expenditure was on the agenda of the Redevelopment Agency meeting.“I want to state for the record that this is a great misuse of Redevelopment Agency money,” Espinosa said of the legal costs.