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Judge allows P.I. who tailed mayor to be deposed

Chris Lanzillo, who called police on Jim Righeimer, will testify under oath in the next two weeks.

March 07, 2014|By Bradley Zint

An Orange County Superior Court judge ruled this week that a private investigator accused of harassing Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer by falsely reporting him for drunk driving in 2012 can be deposed under oath.

Judge Gail A. Andler ruled Wednesday that former Riverside police Det. Christopher Lanzillo will be subject to depositions within about two weeks.

Lanzillo is one of several defendants being sued by Righeimer, his wife, Lene, and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger in a civil-action lawsuit that alleges harassment and intimidation for political gain.

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The councilmen have also sued Costa Mesa's police union and its former law firm, Upland-based Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir, which employed Lanzillo.

One of the councilmen's attorneys, Vince Finaldi, called Wednesday's development "great news."

"It's definitely a positive sign," Finaldi said. "I don't know how someone could see it any other way ... we'll definitely be asking [Lanzillo] relevant questions about the allegations in the complaint."

But the defense also cited positive developments in the case.

On Wednesday, Andler sustained a demurrer motion — meaning she agreed with a legal objection — by saying that the councilmen have not been able to sufficiently allege the "crucial" connection between the police union on one hand, and Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir and Lanzillo on the other.

"By sustaining the demurrer, Judge Andler has indicated very strongly that the plaintiffs cannot state a claim," said Jerry Abeles, who is representing Lanzillo and Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir. "They can't even state facts out of the starting gate to even be able to put on a case."

If the demurrer is ultimately granted, the judge could throw out the councilmen's complaint entirely, he said.

Andler has pointed out that there are "fatal legal flaws" with the claims, he added. She identified several hurdles for them, Abeles said, and various reasons why it "may be difficult to clear those hurdles."

He declined to comment on Andler's decision to open depositions for Lanzillo.

"The Costa Mesa Police Assn. is very pleased with the court's ruling," added Sy Everett, the association's attorney. "We will continue to litigate this matter in court, and will wait for the court's ruling on the anti-SLAPP motion."

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