Frantically seeking to retain his position as Anaheim's special prosecutor, Ravi Mehta on Monday filed a second legal action charging that the City Council that hired him lacks the authority to fire him and that a third council member was now a target of his political corruption probe.
Without waiting for the outcome of the legal action he filed under seal last week in Municipal Court in Fullerton, Mehta went to Superior Court to ask a judge to void last week's 2-1 Anaheim City Council vote to fire him.
In the disputed council vote, Mehta, whose billing practices and evenhandedness have been questioned by the city, was replaced with a local attorney, Derek G. Johnson, a former Orange County deputy district attorney.
Mehta had been hired in September by Councilmen Lou Lopez and Bob Zemel to investigate allegations of election law violations by Mayor Tom Daly and others.
But last week, Lopez switched his position and sided with Councilwoman Shirley McCracken in voting to replace Mehta. Only Zemel voted against the motion.
In a broad legal assault on the council action, Mehta charged Monday that "the City Council lacks the authority to fire the special prosecutor, the firing constitutes an obstruction of justice [and] the vote is void because of a conflict of interest on the part of the two council members voting to remove Mehta. . . ."
In the court papers, Mehta revealed that he "was in the process of investigating [election law] violations of Councilman Lopez." Because he had already prosecuted McCracken, he charged that "both these council members were disqualified . . . on conflict-of-interest grounds, and the vote was void."
In December, McCracken agreed to a civil settlement of charges Mehta was threatening to bring against her and paid the city $6,500.
Meanwhile, Fullerton Municipal Judge Gregg L. Prickett said Monday that the city needs to petition the court to remove Mehta as the prosecuting attorney of record in a case against Daly.
Mehta last week asked Prickett to rule that he should not be removed as independent prosecutor, but he succeeded in getting that legal action sealed.
Cristina Talley, Anaheim's senior assistant city attorney, said the city will immediately apply to Municipal Court for an order authorizing the substitution of a new prosecutor in the Daly case.
Talley said the city had intended to ask the court to authorize the new prosecutor at Daly's arraignment, which had been scheduled for Friday. That court hearing will have to be postponed, however, because the judge will not be available. No new date had been set as of late Monday.
Talley said she is confident that the court will grant the city's request.
"The only impediment to Johnson taking over the case was our having to comply with the statute," Talley said.
Moreover, Talley added, "the city believes the council's action [firing Mehta] is valid" and Mehta was hired under the terms of a contract that provides that the city can terminate the contract with or without cause.
But Mehta, who left his post as chairman of the state Fair Political Practices Commission under a cloud last year, said Monday that he believes that the council's vote was void because of conflicts of interest.
Mehta said he is seeking court action because "as a representative of the state of California, I have the responsibility to ensure that an injustice does not occur." He declined further comment.
Lopez on Monday said he was disappointed that the legal maneuvers by Mehta had not been resolved.
"I hope that the city attorney can resolve the matter as quickly as possible" so Johnson can carry on the investigation, Lopez said.
Since Mehta began his investigations in October, he has filed numerous misdemeanor charges against current and former council members and others for breaching campaign finance laws. Four of the five cases have been settled with civil agreements, except for the case against Daly, his treasurer, Debra Daly, and former Councilman Irv Pickler.
Lopez said last week that he wanted to replace Mehta, who lives in Sacramento, to reduce the cost of the investigation. So far, Mehta has charged the city about $118,000 for his work and expenses.
Lopez said he was responding to public criticism over Mehta's high cost to conduct the probe, which critics called politically motivated.
Mehta last week had agreed to reduce his fees to continue his work as independent prosecutor.
But Lopez said that hiring Johnson, an attorney with an Irvine firm, will save the city money and that he wants a swift closure with the last case with the least cost to taxpayers.