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Posts Tagged ‘Fair Political Practices Commission’

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 »

OCTA Board Members Discuss State Lobbyist Contract

Posted by OC Insider on March 4, 2014

Yesterday, the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) Executive Committee discussed the state lobbying contract that the agency has with Sloat, Higgins Jensen and Associates (SHJA) because of recent FPPC violations by the firm.

If you are unfamiliar with the FPPC violations against Kevin Sloat, who is the principal at SHJA, this article will help fill you in. Sloat was fined a record $133,500 by the FPPC for hosting numerous political fundraisers that counted as “prohibited campaign contributions, and arranging and giving gifts to California lawmakers.” Some of the lawmakers warned by the FPPC for holding events at Sloat’s house include Governor Jerry Brown, Senator Lou Correa (SD-34), Senator Bob Huff (SD-29), and former Assemblyman and current SD-34 candidate Jose Solorio.

OCTA has contracted with SHJA since 2002 for state lobbying and consulting services. Unlike the Transportation Corridor Agencies’ lobbying contracts, this particular contract was approved by the full OCTA board and extended on multiple occasions by the full Board. According to the staff report, SHJA’s services to OCTA include “representation with the Legislature, Governor’s Office, various state departments, agencies, boards, committees, commissions, and staff; advising on state legislation, proposed regulations, and state budget proposals which could have an impact on OCTA; assisting with the preparation of and advocating for OCTA’s legislative program; reporting on state transportation and related developments of importance to OCTA; and updating the Board as specified. SHJA also provides a monthly verbal update on its Sacramento advocacy to the Legislative and Communications Committee.” OCTA’s contract with SHJA lists Kevin Sloat as the contract manager, with several lobbyists that work for SHJA as the legislative advocates.

During their presentation, OCTA staff made it clear that there were many initiatives OCTA was trying to accomplish, and that an interruption in service, i.e. a new lobbyist, may disrupt those initiatives. The staff recommendation was to issue an RFP for the state lobbying services, with a new condition that any FPPC issues be disclosed in the proposals.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer, referencing his time in the state legislature, stated that Sloat is well-respected in the capitol but that this was not a one-time violation.  Spitzer noted that it was likely that SHJA would lose credibility as a result of this finding, and that it could have a negative impact on OCTA.

Irvine Mayor Pro Tem Jeffrey Lalloway, who is also the OCTA Vice-Chairman, noted that the situation is similar to the recent one involving Matt Cunningham. Cunningham held two contracts with OCTA, which were suspended after some poorly thought out photos of a teddy bear were published on the Anaheim Blog page that received national coverage. Lalloway attempted to connect the Sloat and Cunningham incident, and thought if one deserved to be suspended (Cunningham), that the other (Sloat) should be suspended as well to preserve the integrity of the agency.

Michael Hennessey, who serves as a public member on the Board, stated that the comparing the Cunningham and Sloat situations was “weighing morality against need.” He stated that “if Cunningham is bigoted toward Latinos, he’s the strangest bigot I’ve met since he is married to a Latina, his children are half Latina, and if you go to a Christmas party at his house, it is largely Latinos.” He went on to note that if Cunningham’s services were absolutely critical (like OCTA staff was attempting to convey with Sloat), his contracts would have not have been suspended as quickly, and the matter would have been brought to the Board, similar to the current situation with Sloat.

After some other comments by the committee members, Supervisor Spitzer motioned to remove Kevin Sloat’s name from the contract entirely, and replace it with OCTA’s primary legislative advocate Moira Topp as the contract manager. Topp is still an employee of SHJA, but the committee felt that the perception of corruption lays with Sloat as opposed to the rest of the firm. Additionally, the motion included a provision that Sloat could not do any kind of advocacy on behalf of OCTA at any level. Finally, the motion called for an expedited RFP for the lobbying services, to be brought to the Board in April. The motion eventually passed with Lalloway voting no. The full OCTA Board will vote on this issue next Monday, March 10th.

Posted in Orange County Transportation Authority | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

North Orange County Community College Officials received hidden gifts

Posted by Allen Wilson on November 4, 2013

north_orange_county_community_college_district_employer_logo_full

The Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) will consider imposing fines for seven (7) North Orange County Community College District  (NOCCCD) officials and trustees ranging from $200 to $400 at their upcoming meeting on November 14, 2013.

The seven NOCCCD officials named in the agenda on the proposed fines are four trustees:  Leonard Lahtinen, Molly McClanahan, Donna Miller and Manny Ontiveros along with three officials:  Fullerton College President Rajen Vurdien, former Cypress College President Michael Kasler and Chancellor Ned Doffoney.

The Sacramento Bee reports that numerous of electeds and officials were named due to gifts that were received from a bond advisers that went unreported, which is violation of California gift reporting under the Government Code Section 87207.

The Sacramento Bee further explains the investigation was triggered by the Ventura County District Attorney which uncovered unreporting of gifts from bond advisers, which prompted the FPPC to do an investigation of their own.

According to the Sacramento Bee one of the bond advisers named in giving gifts to the seven NOCCCD officials is E.J. De La Rosa & Co., Inc , which has underwritten 375 bonds totaling $14.5 Billion for local governments since 2009.

Below is the stipulation and order by the FPPC for the seven NOCCCD officials due to gift reporting violations:

Staff: Political Reform Consultant Adrianne Korchmaros, Legal Analyst Tracey Frazier, and Law Clerk Kyle Levy. In this matter, Respondent, Rajen Vurdien, as the President of the North Orange County Community College District, failed to timely disclose gift(s) of: one meal valued at $153.86 on his 2010 Statement of Economic Interests; and one meal valued at $180.00 on his 2011 Statement of Economic Interests. All gifts were from E.J. De La Rosa & Co., Inc. and all omissions were in violation of Government Code Section 87207 (2 counts). Total Proposed Penalty: $400.
Vurdien – Stip

Staff: Political Reform Consultant Adrianne Korchmaros, Legal Analyst Tracey Frazier, and Law Clerk Kyle Levy. In this matter, Respondent, Donna Miller, as Trustee for the North Orange County Community College District, failed to timely disclose gift(s) of: one meal valued at $153.86 on her 2010 Statement of Economic Interests. All gifts were from E.J. De La Rosa & Co., Inc. and all omissions were in violation of Government Code Section 87207 (1 count). Total Proposed Penalty: $200.
Miller – Stip

Staff: Legal Analyst Tracey Frazier and Law Clerk Liz Smutz. In this matter, Respondent, Michael Kasler, as the President of the North Orange County Community College District, failed to timely disclose gift(s) of: one meal valued at $180.00 on his 2011 Statement of Economic Interests. All gifts were from E.J. De La Rosa & Co., Inc. and all omissions were in violation of Government Code Section 87207 (1 count). Total Proposed Penalty: $200.
Kasler – Stip

Staff: Political Reform Consultant Jeanette Turvill and Legal Analyst Tracey Frazier. In this matter, Respondent, Molly McClanahan, as a Member of the North Orange County Community College District Board of Trustees, failed to timely disclose gift(s) of: one meal valued at $180.00 on her 2011 Statement of Economic Interests. All gifts were from E.J. De La Rosa & Co., Inc. and all omissions were in violation of Government Code Section 87207 (1 count). Total Proposed Penalty: $200.
McClanahan – Stip

Staff: Political Reform Consultant Jeanette Turvill and Legal Analyst Tracey Frazier. In this matter, Respondent, Manny Ontiveros, as a Member of the North Orange County Community College District Board of Trustees, failed to timely disclose gift(s) of: golf and two meals totaling $318.55 on his 2011 Statement of Economic Interests. All gifts were from E.J. De La Rosa & Co., Inc. and all omissions were in violation of Government Code Section 87207 (1 count). Total Proposed Penalty: $200.
Ontiveros – Stip

Staff: Political Reform Consultant Adrianne Korchmaros, Legal Analyst Tracey Frazier, and Law Clerk Kyle Levy. In this matter, Respondent, Leonard Lahtinen, as a Member of the North Orange County Community College District Board of Trustees, failed to timely disclose gift(s) of: one meal valued at $153.86 on his 2010 Statement of Economic Interests. All gifts were from E.J. De La Rosa & Co., Inc. and all omissions were in violation of Government Code Section 87207 (1 count). Total Proposed Penalty: $200.
Lahtinen – Stip

Staff: Political Reform Consultant Adrianne Korchmaros, Legal Analyst Tracey Frazier, and Law Clerk Kyle Levy. In this matter, Respondent, Ned Doffoney, as Chancellor for the North Orange County Community College District, failed to timely disclose gift(s) of: meals totaling $153.86 on his 2010 Statement of Economic Interests; and meals totaling $180.00 on his 2011 Statement of Economic Interests. All gifts were from E.J. De La Rosa & Co., Inc. and all omissions were in violation of Government Code Section 87207 (2 counts). Total Proposed Penalty: $400.
Doffoney – Stip

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