Mehta Bills Anaheim for Fees to Fight His Firing

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ravi Mehta, the lawyer fired from his Anaheim job investigating alleged campaign violations after the fairness and cost of the probe came under question, billed the city more than $12,000 in attorney's fees to fight his dismissal.

The fees are part of a bill for $184,942 that Mehta, the former chairman of the state Fair Political Practices Commission, sent city attorney Jack L. White this week. The bill is for Mehta's fees and expenses from Jan. 1 to March 31. Mehta also billed the city $225 for an investigator who helped build his case against the city.

White said Friday that the city will not reimburse Mehta for the investigator, Jerry Hodges, or for the attorney, John Dodd, after March 17, when the City Council voted to fire Mehta. Mehta listed Dodd as "deputy special prosecutor for the City of Anaheim" in court motions he filed to keep his job.

Only the City Council or the city attorney can give someone that title, White said.

"He was not appointed. Oh, he may have been appointed by Mr. Mehta, under whatever authority Mr. Mehta thinks he had, but I did not appoint him," White said.

The council hired Mehta in September to investigate possible campaign-finance law violations during the 1996 municipal election. But the city abruptly halted the probe in March after campaign reform advocates and others called it a politically motivated waste of money.

Since October, Mehta has billed the city $302,942 in fees and expenses. The city had paid Mehta $118,000 through December.

Harold J. Bickford, chairman of an Anaheim citizens' group that fought Mehta's appointment, sucked in his breath when told of the latest bills.

"Wow. That's outrageous. This guy is a loose cannon," Bickford said.

"I can't imagine a person appointed to serve the public acting in this way. I can't imagine him trying to do this, much less getting away with it."

Mehta did not return phone calls Friday from The Times.

Dodd is listed as co-counsel in motions Mehta filed in Superior Court in Santa Ana and the 4th District Court of Appeal seeking his reinstatement. He appeared with Mehta in court several times to argue the motions. He also did not return calls Friday.

Hodges, a retired Orange County assistant district attorney, said Friday that he billed Mehta for appearing in court, at Mehta's request, as a possible witness against the city. He said he also billed Mehta for several hours he spent reviewing Mehta's case with Dodd. Mehta originally hired Hodges to work on his campaign violations investigation.

At $250 an hour, Mehta's six-month investigation turned up a series of violations of campaign-finance law so minor that there is no precedent in California for prosecuting them in criminal court. The investigation focused mainly on such technical violations as missing deadlines for filing campaign reports and neglecting to fill in the occupations of individual donors.

No other city or county in California has ever hired a special prosecutor to investigate suspected campaign-finance violations, according to the FPPC, which routinely handles such violations and levies fines.

But Mehta, who was hired at the behest of some council members to investigate their political foes, filed dozens of misdemeanor charges against current and former council members and the Anaheim firefighters' political action committee.

Mehta lives in Sacramento and flew to Orange County frequently at city expense for the six months he led the investigation, charging the city for hundreds of dollars in air fare, parking and hotel bills.

Mehta settled four cases of campaign-finance law violations. The defendants paid the city fines of nearly $46,000 that Mehta set.

When Mehta was fired, and Irvine attorney and former deputy district attorney Derek G. Johnson hired to replace him, Mehta fought his dismissal in court. He argued that the council lacked the authority to fire the special prosecutor, that the firing constituted obstruction of justice and that the vote was void because he had or was planning to investigate the council members who voted to remove him.

Municipal and Superior Court judges dismissed the motions.

Even if Anaheim doesn't pay Mehta's bills for the squabble, it still will owe Johnson $7,000 for defending the city against the former special prosecutor.

"What a waste of money. $300,000 and what did we get for it? We got less than a 10% return. We would have been better off to invest in the market," said political reform watchdog Shirley Grindle.

"I thought it was bad enough that he didn't accept his firing gracefully. But to now bill the city for his legal fees to fight his firing? I think he's making a fool out of himself."

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