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City Hires Outside Counsel to Help Fight Councilmember's Case

Bob Kronovetrealty
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By Jorge Casuso

October 14, 2021 -- The City Attorney has hired outside counsel to help fight a lawsuit filed by Councilmember Oscar de la Torre claiming he is being illegally excluded from deliberations on the voting rights lawsuit.

Carol M. Silberberg, a partner in the Pasadena-based law firm Berry Silberberg Stokes PC, will join the City's legal team as the lawsuit heads to a trial hearing in Los Angeles Superior Court, according to court documents filed by the City Tuesday.

The move comes after Judge Richard L. Fruin, Jr. issued a ruling September 30 rejecting the City of Santa Monica's motion to dismiss the case ("Judge Rejects City's Motion to Dismiss de la Torre's Case," October 5, 2021).

Fruin also indicated he is open to changing course on a tentative ruling in July that de la Torre "had a disqualifying conflict of interest" in the voting rights case filed by his wife, Maria Loya, and the Pico Neighborhood Association (PNA) he formerly headed.

In his subsequent ruling Fruin wrote that "the City's actions to exclude the participation of a councilmember who campaigned in support of the plaintiffs in the CVRA litigation thwarts the political process and raises an actual controversy for judicial determination."

De la Torre said the move to spend money on an outside attorney was another example of the City "willing to pay taxpayer dollars on these legal adventures."

"I'm surprised that they're continuing to spend money to marginalize minority voices without a City Council vote," de la Torre said. "It fails the test of transparency and accountability."

Constance Farrell, the City's spokesperson, said local law "gives the City Attorney the ability to hire outside legal counsel" without Council approval.

"The City is involved in numerous complex and very time consuming lawsuits and other legal matters at present," reads a statement from the City responding to a request for comment.

"This firm is merely supplementing the City Attorney’s staff effort so that sufficient resources can be devoted to handle all of the City’s legal needs.

"As is usual, City Attorney staff will remain actively involved in representing the City in this and other lawsuits," the statement said.

De la Torre's lawsuit -- filed after the City Council voted in January to bar him from deliberations -- is headed to trial as the voting rights case is before the California Supreme Court.

If Fruin maintains de la Torre has no conflict, he could order the City to include de la Torre in deliberations, paving the way for a vote on whether to stop fighting the case filed by Latino activists more than five years ago.

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