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Posts Tagged ‘David Huff’

So what did taxpayers get from CUSD’s financing of Former Trustee Lynn Hatton-Hodson’s Financial Conflict of Interest defense? Nothing! Part Two of Two.

Posted by Craig P. Alexander on August 28, 2017

In Part One we outlined how the taxpayers came to pay for Former CUSD Trustee Lynn Hatton-Hodson’s conflict of interest non-disclosure legal defense. In Part Two we find CUSD is blocking the public’s access to what the taxpayer dollars were spent for and a long list of serious unanswered questions.

Even More Taxpayer Education Dollars to The Olson Law Firm and the Blocked Entries of the Descriptions of Services

In December the Board authorized a $10,000 increase in the allowed cost for the Olson firm (for total legal fees of $25,000.00).  [12-6-16 More Money for Olson Authorization]. Then in February 2017 the FPPC closed its file.  The Olson firm did not submit another invoice to CUSD until April 30, 2017 for $937.50.  When CUSD finally disclosed this invoice in late July (after several requests by CPC) it contained the similar redactions as in the 10/31/16 invoice. [4-30-17 Olson Invoice]

As an attorney myself I understand and value the need for the attorney client communication privilege.  However in this case we have taxpayer funds being spent for the legal defense of a  financial disclosure filing which is normally privately funded by the politician themselves.  Therefore it would be proper for the taxpayers to know what they received for their money.  CUSD could waive the Attorney Client Privilege and give us un-redacted invoices.  But it has refused to do so.

Just What Did the Olson Firm Do For The Money?

With all of the Olson’s firm’s billing activity as of October 31, 2016 we would expect there to be letters and e-mails going back and forth between the Olson firm and the FPPC.

But in the responses to CPC by CUSD and the FPPC not one letter or e-mail was apparently exchanged between the Olson firm and the FPPC.  Not. One. Letter. Or. E-mail. Nothing!  And none between the FPPC and the Orbach or Werksman firms either. The FPPC advised me that if they had “phone notes” of any conversations with the Olson firm, those would have been turned over in response to our Public Records Act request.  None were disclosed.

Serious Questions Remain

So after obtaining everything in writing from CUSD (and the FPPC) that they would disclose, many serious questions remain:

Why are there be no written communications or telephone notes of conversations between the Olson law firm and the FPPC?

Why would the Olson firm not bill the District for the time put into the case between Nov. 1st and Feb. 28th until April 30, 2017?

Just what did this Olson firm do for the $16,274.50 taxpayer’s dollars it was paid?

Are there other matters the Olson firm is being paid taxpayer money for by CUSD?   There is an investigation by the Orange County District Attorney’s office into this same matter involving Ms. Hatton-Hodson.  That District Attorney investigation is not mentioned in the 9/26/16 Olson retainer agreement with CUSD.

Is the Orbach firm working for CUSD / Hatton-Hodson on the District Attorney’s investigation?  Why else would they hire the $750 per hour Werksman firm which advertises itself as “Tenacious. Proven. Criminal Trial Attorneys“?  The Werksman firm’s total invoicing (per the records CUSD disclosed) on this matter is $13,972.50 to date.  $2,175.00 for work done in March 2017 AFTER the FPPC closed its file in February 2017.

Why would the Olson law firm retained to assist the former trustee by the District not list Trustee Hatton-Hodson as the Client rather than the District? After all the District did not fail to file the Disclosure form correctly – Lynn Hatton-Hodson apparently failed to do this.  Why were there no written waivers of the obvious potential conflict of interest in the file disclosed to CPC?

What did the Orbach firm do for CUSD that the Olson firm was not already doing after the Board of Trustees hired Olson in late September 2016?

Here is the breakdown of the taxpayer dollars spent on lawyers in the Lynn Hatton-Hodson matter to date:

Olson              $16,274.50

Orbach           $11,728.00

Werksman     $13,972.50

Total              $41,975.00

Who Received What Benefits For The Public’s $41,975.00 Tax Dollars?

What did the taxpayers get for this expenditure of public funds?  Apparently absolutely nothing except dollars that could have been used in the class room are now in the possession of attorneys.  In fact, three sets of attorneys!

What did CUSD and the children it is supposed to service get for this expense?  Nothing.

What did former Trustee Lynn Hatton-Hodson receive? A free taxpayer funded legal defense before the FPPC (and maybe for the District Attorney’s investigation as well).

Perhaps the real question here is what did the other Trustees get for this expenditure of their constituents’ money!  Apparently the comfort of knowing that if in the future they are caught with their proverbial hands in the financial cookie jar they will have taxpayer dollars to defend their actions and mistakes as political candidates.

Craig Alexander is an attorney who represents requestors of information under the California Public Records Act. He is also volunteer General Counsel for the California Policy Center, Inc. a policy think tank that advocates for transparency in government. He is a former candidate for CUSD’s Board of Trustees. Craig can be reached at craig@craigalexanderlaw.com.

Posted in Capistrano Unified School District, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

So what did taxpayers get from CUSD’s financing of Former Trustee Lynn Hatton-Hodson’s Financial Conflict of Interest defense? Nothing! Part One of Two

Posted by Craig P. Alexander on August 24, 2017

Former CUSD Trustee Hatton-Hodson’s Undisclosed Financial Conflicts Of Interest And The FPPC

Last fall it was discovered that elected CUSD Trustee Lynn Hatton-Hodson had an undisclosed financial conflict of interest due to her ownership interest in a vendor to Capistrano Unified School District. She apparently did not disclose this conflict in her required filing with the County known as a Form 700 (Statement of Economic Interest). A citizen made a complaint to the FPPC (the Fair Political Practices Commission) about Ms. Hatton-Hodson’s failure to disclose the obvious conflict.

Normally the filling out and defending of a Form 700 is completely on the shoulders of the person who files it – whether a successful candidate for office like Ms. Hatton-Hudson or the losing candidate who is not elected to office.  In this case the CUSD Board of Trustees had an attorney opine that filling out a Form 700 was an official act of a Trustee and any challenge regarding the form entitles the Trustee to a taxpayer funded defense by attorneys who specialize in this field.

Trustee Hatton-Hodson’s Undisclosed Financial Conflicts of Interest and the FPPC

In September 2016, the Board of Trustees voted 6 to 0 (Ms. Hatton-Hodson did not vote) to retain the law firm of Olson, Hagel & Fishburn, LLP of Sacramento to defend their colleague before the FPPC.  The Board of Trustees authorized the District to spend $15,000.00 of taxpayer money to defend her.

The Olson firm was specifically requested by Ms. Hatton-Hodson in a letter addressed to CUSD’s general counsel Mr. David Huff of the law firm of Orbach, Huff, Saurez & Henderson, LLP. [Hatton-Hodson ltr to Huff].  Interestingly the fee agreement between the Olson firm and the District identified the District as the Client not Ms. Hatton-Hodson. [9-28-16 Professional Services Agreement]. Yet they apparently defended Ms. Hatton-Hodson, not the District, before the FPPC.

Conflict of Interest – What Conflict of Interest!

The California Policy Center, Inc. sent Public Records Act requests to CUSD and the FPPC after the FPPC closed its file in this matter in late February 2017.

Most of the time a contract between a client and an attorney firm is required under Business and Professions Code section 6148.  CUSD disclosed to CPC the agreement between itself and the Olson firm. Again, oddly, this agreement identifies the District not Trustee Hatton-Hodson as the Client of the firm.  The FPPC complaint was the sole scope of work listed for the Olson firm.

In addition, an attorney is not allowed to represent clients with conflicting interests. Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 3-310.  The attorney may represent two clients where the conflict of interest between them is only a potential one.  But the attorney should obtain a written Waiver of the Potential Conflict of Interest.  Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 3-310 (c).

A potential conflict of interest is something that is very foreseeable in this situation and where the interests if the District and Ms. Hatton-Hodson could become adverse requiring the attorney to withdraw from the representation at any time.  However when we received the documents from CUSD, while the 9/26/17 Agreement was produced, no signed off letters or notices to either the District or Ms. Hatton-Hodson of the Potential Conflict of Interest for the Olson firm were disclosed.  Thus it appears no written waiver was obtained even though one Trustee apparently understood this and brought it to the attention to the Superintendent. [9-26-16 E-mail].

Public Records Act requests by CPC to CUSD and the FPPC – Surprise: Three Law Firms for One Matter!

When CPC sought records under the Public Records Act the requests included attorney fee invoices related to the FPPC matter from CUSD.  In documents disclosed by CUSD we received invoices from not one but three law firms.  Importantly there was one invoice from the Olson firm dated October 31, 2016 for just over $15,000 – the entire amount authorized by the Board of Trustees just one half of one month earlier. [10-31-16 Olson Invoice].

But there were two other firms sending CUSD invoices for this matter: The Orbach firm apparently to give legal advice that the Board could spend taxpayer funds to defend Trustee Hatton-Hodson and presumably to watch over the Olson firm.  Also billing on this matter was the law firm of Werksman, Jackson, Hathaway & Quinn acting as an expert to the Orbach firm.  The hourly rate for the Werksman firm’s senior partner is $750 per hour!  [Werksman Invoices]. All three law firm’s invoices were heavily redacted (blocked out) so that we could not read what these law firms did for Ms. Hatton-Hodson’s defense.  We asked CUSD to give us un-redacted versions of these invoices and it refused.

In Part Two of Two – More Public Money for Attorneys, And for What?  Plus Serious Questions Remain from this Episode. 

Craig Alexander is an attorney who represents requestors of information under the California Public Records Act. He is also volunteer General Counsel for the California Policy Center, Inc. a policy think tank that advocates for transparency in government. He is a former candidate for CUSD’s Board of Trustees. Craig can be reached at craig@craigalexanderlaw.com.

Posted in Capistrano Unified School District, Orange County District Attorney's Office, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »