Costa Mesa's attorney cuts ties with ex-police chief

The law firm partner responds to accusations, saying the law enforcement official crossed the line with his public comments.

June 23, 2011|By Mike Reicher,

COSTA MESA — The city's law firm has broken long-standing professional ties with former interim Police Chief Steve Staveley, whose allegations of "unethical" and "immoral" conduct at City Hall stunned the community.

Richard D. Jones, a partner with the Fullerton-based Jones & Mayer law firm, criticized Staveley for lambasting city officials when he resigned in protest Monday as interim police chief, according to a letter obtained Thursday by the Daily Pilot.

The firm provides legal counsel to the city, which does not have an in-house attorney.

"By your careless accusations, you have impugned our reputation" and the reputation of the City Council, Jones wrote.

Reached Thursday by phone, Staveley confirmed receipt of the letter, which was dated Wednesday. He said that he stood by his criticisms of the council, but said he was disappointed about alienating Jones.


"I like both him and his partner very much, but that is apparently the cost of doing what I thought was the right thing to do," Staveley said.

Both law partners were out of town Thursday and could not be reached for comment.

Staveley, in a letter addressed to Police Department staff Monday, declared that the four-person council majority was steering the city in the wrong direction. He wrote that the council "plays fast and loose with the law and ethics" and suggested that the state attorney general may need to investigate.

The comments simultaneously won Staveley praise for his candor — particularly among employees who oppose a plan to lay off nearly half the city workforce — and sharp criticism from those who found his missive unprofessional, given the temporary nature of his assignment and the stature of his title.

"In my opinion, there is a clear line between what one may say as a private citizen and the comments of a duly-appointed public official, especially one honored to be named as police chief," Jones wrote.

City Chief Executive Tom Hatch, in a statement of his own Monday, called some of Staveley's most serious allegations "simply libelous."

Jones and Costa Mesa officials contend that Staveley has no basis for those accusations.

"You have never been forthcoming of any evidence of misconduct," Jones wrote.

Staveley said that people have misread his comments.

"I didn't accuse anyone of corruption," he told the Pilot. "I said this sort of thing is the first step to corruption."

Staveley was a friend of Jones and consulted for Jones & Mayer before resuming control of the department in recent years.

The council passed more than $1.3 million in cuts to the department early Wednesday morning, as part of the balanced 2011-12 fiscal year budget.

After Staveley originally retired from law enforcement, he conducted internal affairs investigations and management audits for some of Jones & Mayer's clients.

Staveley said it has been at least four years since he consulted with the firm.

Staveley is also the former police chief of La Habra, which is listed among Jones & Mayer clients on the firm's website.

He added that more than 200 friends in law enforcement have contacted him to express support, but that he's tiring of the attention.

"I have no political ambition, and I really don't want the spotlight," Staveley said. "I've had my say, and I'm done with this."

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