City could be swept into councilmen's suit

Costa Mesa's council will discuss the possibility of paying its police union's legal fees in suit brought by two elected officials.

November 14, 2013|By Jeremiah Dobruck
  • Attorney John Manly, center, addresses the media during a press conference regarding a lawsuit against the Costa Mesa Police Officers' Association; the Upland law firm Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir; and Menifee-based private investigator Chris Lanzillo at the Orange County Superior Court Harbor Justice Center in Newport Beach on Thursday. Manly and his law firm represent plaintiffs Mayor Jim Righeimer, who is out of town on business, his wife, Lene Righeimer, far left, and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger, second from right. At far right is Mensinger's wife, Robin.
Attorney John Manly, center, addresses the media during… (KEVIN CHANG, Daily…)

The city of Costa Mesa could soon be in the middle of a legal battle between two councilmen and the police union.

For weeks, the Costa Mesa Police Officers' Assn. has requested that the city pay for its legal defense against a lawsuit filed by Costa Mesa's mayor and mayor pro tem.

Now that request is on the agenda for a closed-session meeting Tuesday, raising the possibility that Costa Mesa could end up in a highly unusual legal situation of defending its employees from a lawsuit filed by two of its own elected officials.

The municipality so far has avoided entanglement in the legal action that, among other things, accuses the police association and its former law firm of attaching a GPS device to one councilman's car.

The police association says it had no knowledge of the alleged misdeeds and contends officers were working within the scope of their city jobs when they got pulled into the legal fray.


Lawyers representing Mayor Jim Righeimer and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger denounced the idea of Costa Mesa paying for the union's legal fees.

"This lawsuit is one thing, but to take taxpayer money to benefit those who allegedly engaged in this act directly or indirectly is outrageous," Irvine-based attorney John Manly said.

In August, the two councilmen sued the police association, its former law firm and a private investigator, alleging the three conspired to gain the upper hand in contract negotiations.

On Thursday, Manly's firm held a press conference outside of Orange County Superior Court's Newport Beach division and highlighted new accusations that allege the defendants plotted to spy on Mensinger during the 2012 election season.

The Orange County's district attorney's office told the councilman that someone placed a GPS tracking device on his truck and frequently trespassed on his Costa Mesa home's driveway to charge it, court documents state.

Exactly how long the device was allegedly in place, and who attached it, isn't clear.

Lackie, Dammeier McGill & Ethir is also the target of an FBI and Orange County district attorney's investigation, according to allegations in the councilmen's lawsuit.

"The conduct that we have discovered as a result of the district attorney disclosing it to the alleged victim in the case, Mr. Mensinger, is such a grotesque violation of his right to privacy that it's beyond words," Manly said. "Politics in Costa Mesa shouldn't be a contact sport, but I guess we've come to expect that."

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