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Tea, GOP support Righeimer

Demonstrators gather on Fair Drive to back mayor pro tem, who they believe was falsely accused of DUI by a P.I. working for a labor law firm. Monahan releases bar's surveillance tape.

August 25, 2012|By Joseph Serna
  • Korean War veteran Tom Bernacchi, 78, of Costa Mesa, shows his support for Costa Mesa Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer as he walks from City Hall to the police station on Saturday.
Korean War veteran Tom Bernacchi, 78, of Costa Mesa, shows… (KEVIN CHANG, Daily…)

Demonstrators on Saturday gathered in front of the Costa Mesa Police Department to support Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, who they contend was falsely accused of driving drunk by a private investigator who works for a law firm that represents police unions.

A motorist tailing Righeimer called 911 Wednesday, saying the councilman was swerving and appeared drunk. Righeimer, who said he only drank a Diet Coke, was given a sobriety test by police at his home and passed. The man who made the call is a fired Riverside police officer who works with a law firm that until recently was retained by the Costa Mesa Police Assn.

"I disagree with Righeimer on things," said Bill Ward, a Costa Mesa resident at the demonstration, "but we've gone from dirty politics to corruption. We know there's already dirty politics, but this goes over the line."

The police association and a partner in the law firm have both said they did not hire the P.I. to follow Righeimer. The Orange County Employees Assn., which represents non-public safety employees, has also said it had nothing to do with the incident and that Righeimer had no evidence to link labor to the 911 call.

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On Friday, Costa Mesa City Hall released a copy of the 911 call made by a man who identifies himself as Chris Lanzillo and reports that Righeimer left Councilman Gary Monahan's bar and restaurant, Skosh Monahan's, and was driving drunk.

Lanzillo is a former Riverside police officer who works for the Upland law firm Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir, which represented the Costa Mesa Police Assn. until two days after the Wednesday incident. The CMPA broke off ties with the firm, saying it was too aggressive.

Righeimer characterized the incident as a union "setup," but said he doesn't believe the officer who responded and gave him a DUI field sobriety test was involved.

"If you think about the classic definition of thuggery, this is it," said Phil Morello, a Costa Mesa resident and the organizer of the demonstration. "The individual police officers elect their people to represent them, so I can't say they're totally innocent."

The demonstration was a mixture of Orange County Republicans and Tea Party members, about half from Costa Mesa and most waving American flags. Some wore shirts with stars and stripes.

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