Councilmen sue police association
Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger have sued the city’s police officers association, alleging the group and two other defendants intimidated and harassed them for political gain.
A civil action lawsuit filed Tuesday names the Costa Mesa Police Officers’ Assn.; Upland-based law firm Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir; and Menifee private investigator Chris Lanzillo, alleging they intentionally inflicted emotional distress and violated civil rights, among 15 other complaints.
Righeimer’s wife, Lene, is also included as a plaintiff.
The mayor and mayor pro tem referred all questions to their lawyer, Vince Finaldi, who said the tactics alleged in the suit are common practice for Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir, a law firm known for representing police.
“They’re coercing and intimidating these people so that they change their vote in favor of the police association,” said Vince Finaldi, who filed the suit on behalf of Mensinger and the Righeimers.
Much of the lawsuit stems from an Aug. 22, 2012, incident during which Lanzillo, a former Riverside police officer, followed Righeimer as he left Skosh Monahan’s, a bar and restaurant on Newport Boulevard owned by Councilman Gary Monahan.
According to a 911 tape acquired by the Daily Pilot, Lanzillo called to report a potential drunk driver.
He then alleged that the driver, whom he did not identify as Righeimer, was driving erratically and reaching a speed of 50 mph down a residential street.
A police officer responded to the call and administered a sobriety test in front of Righeimer’s Mesa Verde home while his children watched in fear, the lawsuit alleges.
Righeimer was immediately found not to be impaired and soon after the incident held a press conference where he produced a receipt for two Diet Cokes from Skosh Monahan’s.
At the press conference, the mayor accused political enemies of trying to set him up. He asserted that the association employed Lanzillo to tail him – an allegation the association strongly denied at the time.
Representatives from the association could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon or evening.
Righeimer and the council majority have been working to reduce public employee compensation, a move that has drawn fierce resistance from public employee associations, collective-bargaining units that share some characteristics with but are not technically unions.
The suit alleges that the police association, Lanzillo and the law firm were all involved in the situation at least indirectly.
“What we’re saying is it’s a conspiracy, that they were all conspiring together to do this,” said Finaldi, of the Irvine-based law firm Manly, Stewart & Finaldi.
Costa Mesa’s police association knew that Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir would resort to strong-arm tactics outlined in the lawsuit because the strategies were included in a “playbook” available on law-firm’s website, according to the complaint.
The plaintiffs also allege that the law firm was in electronic communication with Lanzillo during the time he followed Righeimer home, Finaldi said.
The private investigator previously told the Daily Pilot that he was on another assignment when he decided to follow Righeimer but would not reveal who he was working for that night. The law firm has denied sending him to tail Righeimer.
The police association cut ties with Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir soon after.
The lawsuit, which was filed in Orange County Superior Court, goes beyond that night, stating the three plaintiffs now live in constant “fear for the well-being of [themselves] and [their families]” or being “set up” by the defendants.
The plaintiffs have asked for a jury trial, during which any damages would be decided, Finaldi said.
Lanzillo and the law firm also could not be reached after work hours Tuesday evening.
— Staff writer Bradley Zint also contributed to this report.