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Newport declines to release tree investigation results

City attorney says the reports are protected under attorney-client privilege, but no litigation is pending.

October 31, 2011|By Mike Reicher

Newport Beach officials have declined to release the results of an investigation into the tree that fell and killed motorist Haeyoon Miller in September.

While the blue gum eucalyptus tree on Irvine Avenue straddled the Newport Beach-Costa Mesa border, Newport was responsible for the tree's maintenance. Newport city officials hired an arborist to investigate the accident, in addition to separate analyses by staff members and tree maintenance contractors.

The Daily Pilot filed a request for the report under the California Public Records Act. The request was formally declined Friday.

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Newport Beach City Attorney Aaron Harp said all of their reports are confidential.

In an email Thursday, Harp wrote that one of the city's attorneys directed officials to create the reports so they were protected under the attorney-client privilege. They also pertain to pending litigation, according to the city's official response letter.

Harp said he is not aware, however, of any pending claims or lawsuits filed against the city that are related to the motorist's death.

Miller's family is devastated, and has decided to wait on any legal action, according to Miller's longtime boyfriend, George Osorio.

Osorio, who lives in Tustin, said he received a card expressing condolences from the mayor, but otherwise has heard nothing from city officials. He thought that officials' actions since the tragedy, including removing about 100 trees on the same stretch of Irvine Avenue, points to the city's culpability.

"I'm very concerned that they're either hiding something, or further fueling that sense of guilt," he said.

Daily Pilot Editor John Canalis said the public deserves to know what happened.

"The tree that fell belonged to and was maintained by the taxpayers," he said, "and we believe they ought to have a look at the report. This document, in my view, belongs to the public."

Various theories attempting to explain why the 60-foot tree toppled over include it being affected by prior city roadwork or an earthquake the day before the incident.

mike.reicher@latimes.com

Twitter: @mreicher

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