Attorney general drops Fair Board as client [Updated]

Reasoning behind the move is because the board is reopening the history of the effort to privatize the fairgrounds.

April 24, 2012|By Jon Cassidy, Special to the Daily Pilot

The state attorney general's office is rescinding its recent agreement to once again represent the Orange County Fair Board.

The reason: The board decided to reopen the history of the effort to privatize the Orange County Fairgrounds.

The attorney general acts as attorney to almost all state agencies, but stopped representing the Fair Board in 2009 to avoid a conflict of interest.

An earlier version of this report stated that Fair Board member Nick Berardino took office with the idea of having the attorney general return as the board's counsel. While he supports the idea, it wasn't formally proposed at the time.

At the time, several board members were in the process of forming a nonprofit to buy the fairgrounds if the state put it up for sale. The attorney general wanted to avoid representing parties that could be on both sides of a negotiating table; the Orange County district attorney later concluded that the arrangement was legal.


When Nick Berardino, general manager of the Orange County Employees Assn., joined the board last year, proposed forming a committee to get to the bottom of all the fair sale dealings.

Last month, a Fair Board steadily moving more in Berardino's direction finally approved his idea for the Fair Sale Review Committee.

In an April 17 letter to board Chairwoman Joyce Tucker, Chief Assistant Attorney General Mark J. Breckler wrote: "On March 29, 2012, based on our understanding that all [fairgrounds sale] issues have been resolved, we agreed to resume legal representation" of the board. "We have recently learned that all of the issues relating to the proposed sale of the … fairgrounds have not been resolved. Therefore, we are rescinding our March 29, 2012 letter ... "

Tucker said that she had notified the attorney general's office of the committee because "they didn't know there was an ongoing investigation."

The committee is designed to have a majority that has a financial interest in the fairgrounds — "stakeholders," Berardino called them.

"They all have an interest in not seeing it sold," Berardino acknowledged. "But I think it demonstrates the quality of the attorney general, who is showing deference to the citizens who are about to look into the sale situation and waiting to see what they come up with."

That would be an illegal conflict of interest if the committee had any decision-making authority, according to a guide published by the state attorney general's office.

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