After scandals, aggressive police union law firm to dissolve

Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer claims he was set up when a private eye made a 911 call that he was driving drunk.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

An Upland-based law firm known for its aggressive representation of cops and their unions has decided to dissolve the business after a series of scandals and a lawsuit filed by a pair of Costa Mesa council members who alleged the firm was harassing them for political gain.

Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir was also dropped recently by the Peace Officers Research Assn. of California, which alleged misconduct regarding the firm’s billing practices.

A private detective who worked with the firm also was investigated by the Orange County district attorney after allegedly tailing a Costa Mesa councilman from a local pub and alerting police that the elected official appeared to be drunk.


The councilman, who was perceived as being a critic of the city’s police union, later passed a sobriety test and produced a receipt for two Diet Cokes.

The law firm, which has represented law enforcement agencies across California, “will be winding down and eventually close,” according to a letter signed by attorney Dieter Dammeier to one of his police association clients. The letter was obtained by the Daily Pilot.

Dammeier also writes of a “mass exodus” of attorneys amid the recent “turmoil.” It does not specify the timeline of the firm’s dissolution.

Dammeier and other partners from the 16-year-old firm did not respond to phone and email requests for comment.

The Daily Journal first reported that more than half of the firm’s 19 attorneys are leaving or forming their own partnerships.

Chris Lanzillo, a former Riverside police detective who has worked for the firm as a private detective, was accused of following Jim Righeimer, now the city’s mayor, home in the summer of 2012 and reporting to police that the then-councilman was driving drunk. A police officer then arrived at Righeimer’s home and conducted a field sobriety test.


Costa Mesa’s police association was one of Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir’s clients at the time, though the group denied any involvement in what Righeimer called a “set-up.” The union later fired the firm.

Saku Ethir, a managing partner with Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir, said the lawsuit subsequently filed by Righeimer, his wife and Councilman Steve Mensinger was politically motivated.

The law firm was noteworthy for its brassy, in-your-face web page, which contained a “playbook” for election-year tactics. The “playbook” has since been taken down.

“Storm city council,” the playbook suggested, campaign against them, send attack mailers, picket, pay for billboards, launch websites denouncing the city. The site suggested using “work slowdown” as a tactic, such as “asking for a backup unit on most calls,” as well as “blue flu,” a staged sick-out by police officers.

“Focus on a city manager, councilperson, mayor or police chief and keep the pressure up until that person assures you his loyalty and then move on to the next victim,” the site read.



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