Orange City Atty. David De Berry
When he graduated from San Diego State University in 1980, David De Berry had his sights set on a career in sports journalism or public relations. He switched gears within a few years, however, and earned his law degree at Western State University. On April 1, De Berry, 40, will become Orange’s city attorney, a post that pays $98,000 a year. He spoke with Times correspondent Lesley Wright about the challenges of the new job and his responsibilities to the city and its representatives.
Q: What role will politics play in your job as city attorney?
A: As I define politics, the act of governing, they are one and the same. The job is to interpret the laws for the City Council and help guide the acts of governance as dictated by law. My main goal is to advise the City Council and keep them out of trouble, and, secondly, to further their policies. If they have a policy they want to put into effect, I need to tell them how to do that legally and how to avoid any potential challenges that might have merit.
Q: What will be the biggest challenge of the job?
A: To remain impartial toward council members and the issues. The biggest challenge for department heads, staff and City Council members is to renew some level of trust in government. I think that is probably the biggest crisis in government today. . . . When you can establish trust, it helps the city move along. . . . We really spend a lot of our time trying to comply with regulations. That time does not further our ultimate goal of making our city a good place to live, work and visit.
Q: What are the big legal challenges coming up?
A: Personnel issues will continue to be heavily litigated. The fundamental purpose of these laws was to protect employees, and those laws are good. But more and more, it seems as if the laws are being used as a sword instead of a shield. . . . I know that when we lay people off there is no discriminatory reason, but these laws appear, and we’ve got to waste our time defending them. . . . The city also has the potential to have a lot of land use decisions because our sphere of influence goes around Irvine Lake.
Q: What makes this particular job interesting to you?
A: My first job as an attorney was with a personal-injury firm. Then I worked with an insurance defense firm for two months. . . . I didn’t like the billing and the focus on money. Municipal law is far and away the most exciting and challenging. The issues are always different. . . . A city can get involved in almost any type of law outside of family law. We have criminal prosecutions, large personal-injury cases, a very interesting bankruptcy, condemnation proceedings. . . . You can encompass almost any other type of law.