City Hall watchdog slapped with suit; Government watchdog faces cross-complaint
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home / citizen / in the media

Pasadena Star-News
Apr 23, 2002

by Elizabeth Lee

City Hall watchdog slapped with suit; Government watchdog faces cross-complaint

He sued City Hall to force officials to put a voter-approved anti-corruption ballot measure on the books, and now the city is suing back.

Government watchdog Rene Amy, who filed a lawsuit in March trying to force officials to authenticate and file Measure B, is crying foul over the citys legal response.

Last week, in addition to filing an answer to Amys complaint, the city filed what is known as a cross-complaint, alleging that Measure B is unconstitutional and asking the judge to rule on its validity.

Amy says the cross-complaint amounts to nothing more than a "SLAPP' suit-- short for a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.

Amy believes the cross-complaint was intended to generate additional paperwork, harass him and threaten him financially in retaliation for exercising his rights. The city has asked the court to make Amy pay its attorneys fees if it prevails in the case.

"This is one of those bury them in legal fees situations, ' Amy said. "Im sure, in the hearts of (the citys) attorneys, burns a cold fire that says, We can take down Amy and chill others who would raise the call against bad government, ' Amy said.

But the city attorney said the cross-complaint has no such intent.

"Hes wrong. Weve just filed a request for declaratory judgment,' said City Attorney Michele Bagneris. "The courts will just declare ... whether (the measure is) valid or its not.'

Also known as the Taxpayer Protection Amendment, Measure B passed by 60 percent in the March 2001 election. But the city hasnt yet filed the initiative with the Secretary of State, necessary for it to become law, because city leaders believe Measure B is unconstitutional and want a judge to rule on the issue.

Measure B would prohibit city officials from accepting jobs, gifts or campaign donations from people or groups to whom theyve awarded taxpayer dollars or a so-called public benefit. A wide range of decisions would fall under that category, ranging from a city contract for services to a variance from zoning laws.

Bagneris said the city is not "SLAPP-ing' Amy. She noted that the cross-complaint-- the document that Amy is so angry over-- does not ask for attorneys fees. But another document the city filed, a response to Amys legal complaint, does indeed ask for them.

"Its kind of hard to separate the attorneys fees for the cross-complaint from the attorneys fees for the response to (Amys complaint),' Bagneris said. "I dont know how we would separate them or even if we would try to separate them.'

Amy says the total legal fees-- if the city were to win-- could cost him up to $100,000.

But Bagneris said they would be nowhere near that. "It depends on where this (case) goes, but itll certainly be less than $10,000, hopefully in the range of $5,000.'

The Los Angeles-based firm of Richards, Watson and Gershon, which Bagneris has hired to handle the case, was once her employer. Amy has repeatedly noted this fact, but Bagneris said this is not the reason the firm is handling the matter.

"Theyve been working with some of the other cities on (similar ballot initiatives), so it made sense, in my opinion, to go with them,' she said.

Amy also says that the city has no basis on which to file a cross-complaint against him. The cross-complaint says Amy supports the constitutionality of the measure, but Amy said he has made no such statement. His lawsuit asks only that the city put the measure on the books as it is required to do by law, he said.

"I have no stance regarding the constitutionality of Measure B,' Amy said in an e-mail. "I havent studied the issue, and I really dont care about it.'

Meanwhile, the initial sponsors of Measure B on Monday received the courts permission to join the lawsuit.

The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, the parent organization of the measures sponsor The Oaks Project, and Pasadena resident Paul Monsour, a member of The Oaks Project, were granted permission to intervene in the suit, according to their attorney Dan Sharfstein-- a former reporter at this newspaper. A hearing in the case scheduled for Friday was postponed to May 31st.


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