City Picks Ex-Judge as Lawyer in Spill Probe

Thousand Oaks has tapped a tough-nosed former drug czar and federal prosecutor to represent the city in a federal probe into an 86-million gallon sewage spill last month.

For his efforts, U.S. district judge turned defense attorney Robert C. Bonner, 56, is expected to earn $405 an hour if City Council members approve his contract in an upcoming closed session.

"He is well-respected throughout the state of California and the country," said Thousand Oaks City Atty. Mark Sellers, who will coordinate Bonner's efforts. "I can't think of a better person to represent the city."

The 56-year-old Bonner is a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, who became the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles and a federal district judge before then-President George Bush picked him to head the Drug Enforcement Agency in 1990. Bonner has since returned to private practice, where he defended Heidi Fleiss, among others.

The U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles is investigating whether the Thousand Oaks spill was a negligent violation of the federal Clean Water Act.

If a federal grand jury finds compelling evidence, the city and its leaders could face civil and criminal charges.

The U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles has subpoenaed thousands of pages of documents recounting the events leading up to the spill.

Sellers said Friday that the city will be unable to provide all the documents by the March 17 deadline. So the city attorney is hoping to limit the scope of the probe and figure out which documents should be submitted first, he said.

"The scope of the request so far is so broad as to include documents from files about, 'It's Joanne's birthday this week. Stop by her desk and say hi,' " Sellers said. "Now I don't think that's what they want to see."

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