HUNTINGTON BEACH : Suit Promised Over Home-Height Action

As Emad Ali Hassan prepares next week to file a lawsuit against the city for ordering him to remove six feet from the top of his luxury home, a City Council decision this week will preclude his using the law firm he had chosen.

The council, by a 3-2 vote, moved to prevent the law firm of Rutan & Tucker from representing Hassan because that firm represents the city on some land-acquisition matters.

Hassan said Thursday that he plans to file a suit early next week seeking the right to keep his three-story home intact and as much as $10 million in damages. The suit will be filed in Orange County Superior Court, perhaps as soon as Monday, Hassan said.

The city, meanwhile, is also preparing to file a separate court action ordering Hassan to remove at least six feet from his home because it exceeds the city's height limit. The council this week approved the final documents clearing the way for the city to take legal action.

City Atty. Gail C. Hutton recommended that the council allow the attorneys to keep both cases because they are not related. But the council majority, led by Councilman Peter M. Green, rejected that recommendation.

"We should stand for the highest standards of responsibility," Green said. "Any firm that defends the city cannot sue the city on another matter."

Green said he believes that "there may be a conflict of interest in the mind of the average person. And I'd like to keep even the appearance of any conflict of interest away from this City Council."

Rutan & Tucker represents others in issues against the city, including Jonathan Chodos, developer of the ill-fated Pierside Village proposal, and Mike Abdelmuti, owner of Jack's Surfboards shop. In both those cases, however, the firm advises them in negotiations, not litigation, Hutton said.

To work for Hassan, Rutan & Tucker would have to drop its work for the city.

The city approved Hassan's home before it was built in 1985, but all that has changed because of the council's Jan. 22 decision.

A state appellate court ruled that the city had erred in approving Hassan's home because it exceeded the city's 30-foot-height limit and obstructed neighbors' ocean views. To correct the matter, the court ordered the city to either grant Hassan a code variance or order him to lop off the illegal portion of his custom home.

Council members, arguing that they were obligated now to correct the city's error, voted to order Hassan to lower the height of his home, which is across Warner Avenue from Huntington Harbour.

Hassan has said that he would acquiesce to that order "over my dead body."

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