Do You Know What Your City Attorney is Doing?

Roy L. Byrnes, for Mayor of San Juan Capistrano

When you read this article about the San Juan City Attorney, you might be surprised. Last year our City Attorney and his firm were paid well over a million dollars. Compare that to neighboring Laguna Niguel with a population twice that of San Juan; their legal fees totaled around $300,000 last year while ours exceeded $1.2 million. What does our City Attorney do to earn his $1.2 million?

The City Attorney's job is to protect his clients interests. Great, that's me, you'll say. You're wrong! He's not your attorney; he has no interest in protecting you. The real job of this million dollar lawyer has been to facilitate the politico network controlling our City Hall. Since the City Attorney is required by canons of legal ethics to serve the interests of his client, be it the City Council or City staff, he cannot be the champion of the interests of the citizens of San Juan  something the average citizen fails to realize.

Here are several examples of how the City Attorney serves City Hall politicos, often to the detriment of San Juan citizens:

  1. Three years ago the good ol boys in City Hall decided to give the Rancho Mission Viejo Company multi-millions of your money to buy the Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park. But there were two big problems. One being that it isnt legal for a city to use millions in public bond money to buy property outside its city limits. In addition, the voters would not support this huge 27 million dollar indebtedness. The City Attorney helped to solve these problems thusly; the bond measure was misrepresented to the voters as involving property within the city (a dummy decoy list was offered to deceive the voters) and the Ranchs property was annexed into our City simultaneously with the close of escrow - but only after citizens complained about the illegality of using bond money (i.e; tax dollars), to purchase property outside city limits. This deal was done in closed session without the knowledge or approval of the voters. The fact that the property is functionally within the Rancho Mission Viejos future city  (they get the enjoyment of the park while we get to pay for it) are details that are swept under the rug. Meanwhile our long term financial burden for this Open Space Riding Park debacle will have soared toward approximately $100 million. The City Attorney has no concern that his machinations deceived the voters or cost us so much. He has served his masters well  and his masters are not the taxpayers of San Juan.
  2. In November 2009 the Orange County District Attorney informed then-Mayor Mark Nielsen of his legal opinion that Nielsen had violated the Brown Act by holding Council meetings from which the public had been improperly excluded. This was embarrassing due to the upcoming election. Once more, the City Attorney rode to the rescue. The facts were so obvious that he could not refute the DA but he did manage to talk the DA into referring the case for investigation by the California Attorney General. Since the Attorney General would require over a year for review, the matter was removed from public consideration in the election, to the delight of the Mayor.
  3. Yet another example; over the past 2 months theres been evidence in town that a former Councilman may have violated State law by receiving City money in excess of legal limits. If this were an ordinary person, the facts would have been determined and if appropriate, repair actions undertaken - but not in San Juan.  Instead, your SJC City Attorney rushed in to throw his cloak of invisibility over the matter, requiring that it be discussed only in closed Executive Session of the Council.
All are reminders that City Attorneys primary obligation is to protect City Council members, not the taxpayers who pay his hefty hourly fee. If recent events here in San Juan teach us anything, its that we citizens must remain on guard against the unseen hand that controls our elected leaders.

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