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Union’s appeal further ties up lawsuit

A legal battle roiling between two Costa Mesa councilmen and the city’s police union could soon be headed to a higher court.

Thursday, the Costa Mesa Police Assn. appealed an Orange County Superior Court judge’s decision to deny a request to strike down the case.

The association had argued that Mayor Jim Righeimer and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger were trying to stifle the union’s right to free speech by filing the lawsuit, but Judge Gail Andler ruled in May that the acts the councilmen say took place aren’t protected by the 1st Amendment.

Now, the association has asked a California appeals court to reconsider that decision.

The union’s former law firm, Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir, and Chris Lanzillo, a private investigator who worked for the firm, are co-defendants in the lawsuit filed last year.

In the civil action, Righeimer and Mensinger allege that the three defendants conspired to harass and intimidate them for political gain during the 2012 election season.

Specifically, they allege that Lanzillo or someone else placed a GPS tracking device on Mensinger’s truck.

The lawsuit also centers on a night in August 2012 when Lanzillo tailed Righeimer from a fellow councilman’s bar and called 911 to report the mayor looked like he was driving drunk.

A police officer responded to Righeimer’s home to administer a sobriety test and cleared him of any impairment.

The police association fired Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir soon after the incident and denies it directed, condoned or even knew about any of the alleged wrongdoing.

The union’s lawyer, Sy Everett, has said the association can’t be held liable for something a third-party contractor may have done.

“Everybody has the right to hire a lawyer,” Everett said.

The police association’s request for reconsideration comes one day after Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir and Lanzillo filed their own appeal.

Until Andler’s ruling in May, the case had been on hold. The defendants’ 1st Amendment defense automatically froze any discovery. Now the appeal must be settled before the lawsuit moves forward.

After Andler’s decision, lawyers for Righeimer and Mensinger said they were eager to start taking depositions from members of the police association and Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir partners.

Vince Finaldi, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said his firm is champing at the bit.

“We are moving forward with discovery and don’t care which form of new delay tactic the defendants choose to employ,” he said. “Justice will be served for our clients no matter which forum the defendants run to.”


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