Union calls on Costa Mesa to suspend law firm contract

COSTA MESA — The Orange County Employees Assn. is calling for the city to suspend the contract with its law firm and investigate the unauthorized media leak of a draft report about a city worker’s death.

“This leak of sensitive information by city contractors is inexcusable,” OCEA Assistant General Manager Lisa Major wrote to Costa Mesa Chief Executive Tom Hatch on Friday.

Major pointed to an Aug. 4 article in the Orange County Register that said the newspaper had obtained a draft report prepared by Talon Executive Services, a firm that does private investigations and security work for government agencies and other clients.

The report concluded that city maintenance worker Huy Pham did indeed commit suicide on March 17 from the top of City Hall. The Costa Mesa Police Department had previously reached the same conclusion.

The union suggested the city’s law firm, Jones & Mayer, could have released the draft to the Register because only it and Talon Services had access to it. The Daily Pilot was unable to corroborate whether that was indeed the case, or if others had access to the draft report before its release.

“If Jones & Mayer is one of only two entities with access to the report, its employees are clearly unable to conduct a credible independent investigation into the matter,” Major wrote. “Additionally, OCEA demands that the city at least temporarily suspend its relationship with Jones & Mayer until the independent investigation is completed and the source of the leak is identified.”

The OCEA requested an independent investigation into the leak the same day the Register’s article appeared online.

In an email to a local blogger, city spokesman Bill Lobdell communicated the city attorney’s response to inquiries of the leak.

“Jones & Mayer and Talon had access to the draft report related to the Huy Pham death,” City Attorney Tom Duarte wrote. “It had not been given to the city of Costa [Mesa]. Any information released about the draft report was unauthorized.”

Duarte responded to the OCEA on Friday.

“The apparent release of the draft report — which does not contain information that would violate anyone’s privacy rights and did not violate the Brown Act — is an internal matter that my office is handling and is not subject to public disclosure,” he said.

Jones & Mayer hired Talon Services to investigate the death because of anticipated litigation, Duarte said.

“I’m confident that the City Attorney’s Office will take all necessary and appropriate steps in this matter,” Hatch said in an email.