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Santa Monica's Outside Law Firm Should Pay for Costly Mistake

July 5, 2018

Dear Editor,

In 2016, litigation was started against the City of Santa Monica alleging that the citywide election of all seven council members, instead of by districts, violated the California Voting Rights Act ("Judge Tosses City of Santa Monica's Motion to Dismiss Voting Rights Lawsuit," June 18, 2018).

About 40 cities faced with such a legal challenge immediately agreed to change to district voting but Santa Monica undertook a costly fight ("City of Santa Monica the “One Hold Out” in Voting Rights Litigation, Lawyer says," May 18, 2017).

In March, 2018, the City's 1,000-lawyer outside law firm, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, moved to end the case in the City's favor by filing a Motion for Summary Judgment.

At a June 14 hearing, Superior Court Judge Yvette Palazuelos had no choice but to deny this motion because the law firm failed to meet a deadline by filing the motion 77 days before the date it set for a hearing, while the statute required an 80-day period.

City Attorney Lane Dilg and two of her staff attorneys, Susan Cola and George Cardona, are monitoring this case. It is a major responsibility of the Office to work intensively on important parts of a case with the outside law firm.

How then did these three highly paid city lawyers not prevent the motion's filing deadline from being missed? What other legal disasters are out there?

The five Gibson lawyers working on the case bill roughly from $400 to $1500/hour with supervising lawyer, Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr., being a nationally recognized attorney.

As a class action attorney, I would estimate a Gibson fee of $500,000 just for handling the motion, which cited and analyzed 46 cases and 11 statutes, and involved the merits of complex legal issues.

Furthermore, plaintiffs' lawyers cited 32 cases and 14 statutes and are entitled to payment by the City of their hourly fees, if successful. So we are talking maybe $900,000 for the motion that the Court denied because the outside firm and inside lawyers missed a major deadline.

Under no circumstances should our City pay a penny for this Gibson mistake and that firm must pay everything due to plaintiffs' law firms. I have gone on record with this demand to Gibson and the City.

If the City should lose at trail (starting on July 30), or settle in a manner favorable to district elections, Santa Monica will be paying a total of roughly $10 million to Gibson and the plaintiff's firm.

Could not the City have better spent those funds for policing the illegal electric scooter riders, for example, or reducing the pension debt?

This huge exposure raises another key issue for discussion. Each council member has a clear conflict of interest since a change to district elections could be a career-ending event.

Is it not logical to contend that all major decisions should have been made by an independent entity without that conflict (certainly not Gibson)?

Are Mayor Ted Winterer and the City Council giving priority to their own interests, in breach of their fiduciary duty, to residents?

Stanley H. Epstein, Esq.
Santa Monica resident

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