Righeimer blasts police association’s former firm

Costa Mesa Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer took to the steps of City Hall on Tuesday to criticize a law firm that until recently represented the city’s police association.

Righeimer said Lackie, Dammeier & McGill’s negotiating tactics are having a “chilling effect” on elected officials throughout Southern California who want to reform pay and pension packages for public safety personnel.

“They’re forcing you to vote against the best interests of your community,” he said.

During the press conference, Righeimer and city council members from Buena Park, Fullerton and Irvine claimed that the Upland-based firm and its clients have harassed city officials leading up to elections and contract negotiations.

“What we have here is people supposed to serve public interests … subject to intimidation,” said U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa), who attended the press conference.

Rohrabacher called for the U.S. departments of Labor and Justice to investigate.

A private investigator associated with Lackie, Dammeier & McGill followed Righeimer home from a bar Wednesday and called 911 to report that he was driving drunk. An officer arrived at Righeimer’s house, conducted a quick field sobriety test, and found the councilman — who later produced a receipt for two Diet Cokes — to be sober.

Lackie, Dammeier & McGill has denied any involvement in the incident. The P.I. who made the call, Chris Lanzillo, said he was not retained by the firm to follow Righeimer.

Lanzillo, a 42-year-old former Riverside police detective who has his own investigation agency in Riverside County, said he was on another assignment when he called 911. He has also strongly denied assertions that organized labor or anyone else set up Righeimer.

In a statement to the Daily Pilot, Lackie, Dammeier & McGill defended its negotiation tactics and the way it represents associations.

“When our clients are treated unfairly or unlawfully, yes, we are aggressive, within the limits of the law, to vindicate our client’s position,” wrote Dieter Dammeier, the firm’s managing partner. “We will not apologize for ‘aggressively’ protecting those that put their lives on the line every day protecting all of us … “

The firm also said that it enjoys strong working relationships with several cities.

The Costa Mesa City Council majority, however, has been at odds with the Costa Mesa Police Assn. Officials downsized the city’s sworn police force last year, replacing some with civilian workers and grounding the shared police helicopter program.

The 4-1 council majority, led by Righeimer, has refused to hire more officers until the CMPA agrees to create a second retirement tier for new employees, among other demands.

“Most cities treat our clients fairly and lawfully, and there is a harmonious working relationship between management and rank and file,” Dammeier said. “It is rather the rare exception that we find ourselves dealing with a city that simply cannot follow the law, or be fair and reasonable.”

The CMPA terminated its contract with Lackie, Dammeier & McGill on Friday, saying it wanted to take a more cooperative approach to negotiations. CMPA President Jason Chamness said his members were not behind Lanzillo’s call.

Righeimer himself has long been at odds with the CMPA as well.

In 2010, leading up to the November election, the association drove a billboard around the city that publicized a website showing Righeimer’s history of personal financial troubles.


Alleged ‘Gestapo tactics’

Officials from other cities also attended the press conference, claiming they have been targeted by police associations in the past.

Buena Park City Councilman Fred Smith said police there tried to set him up for a DUI in 2010. Police told the Orange County Register at the time that Smith’s car was spotted straddling lanes.

“These kind of Gestapo tactics have to stop,” said Irvine City Councilman Jeffrey Lalloway, an attorney. “It’s another black eye on the profession I love … this could happen to any of us.”

In July, San Gabriel’s police management and firefighter management associations publicly condemned Lackie, Dammeier & McGill’s tactics to the city manager over negotiations with its police officer association.

“They want to control politics, business, council activities and city administration,” the San Gabriel Police Management Group wrote of the city’s police association, which represents rank-and-file officers. “Their tactics have become reckless and their methods, delivered through their attorney, are designed to bully and intimidate.”

“These are not the only communities who have been dealing with these issues,” said San Gabriel City Manager Steve Preston.

Twitter: @JosephSerna