LagunaBeachCHAT has embarked on an extensive and thorough analysis of the City’s history of claims, settlements and litigation. We felt that tax payers deserved to know the facts behind how the City chooses to direct resources and taxpayer funds to defend the City against claims. Also of public interest are what types of claims/litigation tend either to be paid without much of a fight, and those that result in years of legal battles (and huge legal bills for the taxpayer). We were also interested to compare the costs and types of cases that our City pursues vs other cities.
LagunaBeachCHAT made a California Public Record Act (CPRA) request of the City, which in-turn directed the City’s external law firm (Rutan & Tucker) to review, redact and organize a large amount of billing data going back to 2010. The cooperation we experienced from the City Clerk and her staff was exemplary and we never doubted their intention to provide us with the information we needed. That cooperation stood in stark contrast to the resistance we received from R&T. Our 1st CPRA request directed to them was denied. It took a second request along with a reference to the recent California Superior Court ruling on the public’s right to access city/public legal documents, to finally get their cooperation. That notwithstanding, the sense we got from the City’s external law firm was decidedly chilly and dismissive of our efforts. We received reports that representatives of Rutan & Tucker made public comments dismissing our work and claiming that it was costing the city “tens of thousands of dollars” in labor hours. We also experienced first-hand critical comments from a City councilmember also complaining of our waste of the City Clerk’s time (and that of her assistant). Apparently neither this City councilmember nor the representative of Rutan & Tucker feel transparency is worthwhile or a right of the tax paying residents.
We poured over hundreds of pages of invoices, covering monthly retainer fees, regular ongoing issues, and individual litigation cases, trying to make sense of what was often quite a messy affair. We were struck by how the data we sought appeared to be fairly difficult to pull-together and how the many different entities overseeing this invoicing, all had different views of the same underlying activities. If nothing else, this undertaking shocked all of us involved at the lack of adequate software and technology to track and maintain our public city documents and important financial information.
Summary: We continue to examine the results and we plan to share the resulting database of information with the City. For now, we’d like to share a few interesting bits with our readers.
- A consolidated view of the total Rutan & Tucker expenditures covering 5 fiscal years: 2011/12, 2012/13, 2013/14, 2014/15, 2015/16 and a partial 2016/17 (with extrapolation).
We note a disturbing trend in the data in that our legal expenditures have approached US$1 million per year since FY14-15 and have remained there for the FY15-16. Our projections have it near that limit for the current fiscal year too. Readers should also bear in mind that these payments to Rutan & Tucker exclude certain extraordinary legal expenses (sometimes secondary legal counsel is retained on some cases), as well as any judgements against the City (as we are expecting in the Klein et. al v. City of Laguna Beach).
- We have also obtained summary data on claims filed against the City and the results of such claims actions. Please click here to see the PDF file.
- Secondly, we have a summary spreadsheet from the City (this looks very different from the spreadsheet we have assembled and are in the process of thoroughly analyzing), which shows the various litigation cases the City has been involved in over the past 5 fiscal years, and the amounts the taxpayers have paid to keep these before the court. Please click here to see this PDF.
- Finally, we have extracted the most expensive R&T cases that we tracked for our 5 year review. You can see the list here.
<Updates: 24April17 – updated linked spreadsheet under 1st bullet. Added “Top-15” spreadsheet via 3rd bullet point>