City Weighs Attorney’s Actions, Impact on Suits
City officials are questioning whether a former deputy city attorney compromised the city’s legal positions on several pending court cases when he resigned and moved into the law offices of a firm representing the opposing side.
Because former Deputy City Atty. Frank Rhemrev leased space in the office suite of Santa Ana attorney Rodolfo Montejano, the city attorney’s office will ask next week for postponement of a trial involving a lawsuit between the city and Councilman Richards L. Norton.
Norton is challenging the city’s decision to evict his swap meet from a city-owned stadium. Montejano is Norton’s attorney and represented him in the lawsuit up until about a year ago, City Atty. Edward J. Cooper said Monday.
“I am going to review the case very carefully to be sure he (Rhemrev) did not compromise the city’s case,” Cooper said.
Rhemrev said he was “aghast” and “flabbergasted” that his professional integrity would be questioned after more than three years of service as the city’s legal representative on code-enforcement issues. He resigned his position April 30 to start his own law practice.
The former deputy city attorney said he would never compromise his professional reputation and the attorney-client relationship he had with the city.
“It’s like playing Russian roulette with an automatic gun,” Rhemrev said. “It does not make sense.”
He said he has not joined Montejano’s law firm, but like other attorneys in the office suite, is simply leasing office space as he attempts to build his own practice.
“I got a lease arrangement here that I could not turn down,” he said.
Rhemrev’s move does not violate any city employment rules, Cooper said, adding, “I will have to trust Mr. Rhemrev’s ethics not to discuss any of that case with Mr. Montejano.”
Cooper said that in addition to the Norton case, Rhemrev also handled about 30 zoning and municipal-code lawsuits pending against catering-truck owners who are represented by Montejano.
Rhemrev, who once worked in the district attorney’s office, said his situation is similar to that of a prosecutor who leaves the district attorney’s office and becomes a criminal defense attorney.
“Obviously, I cannot take cases (in private practice) in which I was the filing deputy attorney when I was with the city,” he said.
He added that in the Norton case, a judge already ruled in the city’s favor in a pretrial hearing and that the trial was expected to deal with the enforcement practices of the police and code-enforcement officers.
Norton sued the city in 1987, claiming that the council violated the Ralph M. Brown Act when it terminated his lease at Santa Ana Stadium/Eddie West Field. The city filed a counter suit, alleging that Norton owes the city about $60,000 in unpaid rental charges and business-license taxes.