Law firm sued by mayor to close
An Upland-based law firm being sued by two Costa Mesa City Council members is closing, according to a letter obtained Thursday by the Daily Pilot.
Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir “will be winding down and eventually close,” according to the letter sent by partner Dieter Dammeier to one of his police association clients. It was dated Wednesday.
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 — which is known for its aggressive representation of police officers and unions — did not respond to phone and email requests for comment.
The Daily Journal, a Los Angeles publication that focuses on legal news, first reported that more than half of the firm’s 19 attorneys are leaving or forming their own partnerships.
The news comes after directors with the Peace Officers Research Assn. of California alleged misconduct regarding Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir’s billing practices. On Sept. 9, the Sacramento-based association’s board voted to remove the firm from its Legal Defense Fund list of approved attorneys.
The fund, established in 1974, has more than 99,000 members and is the largest of its kind in the country, according to PORAC’s website.
PORAC made its decision based on a certified fraud examiner’s report, which included allegations of double and triple billing, and bills for travel that never happened.
“Given the extended period of time over which these widespread acts over billing have occurred,” the board wrote, “numerous experts have estimated the potential damages to be quite substantial.”
The board also wrote that a “continued analysis and investigation to more precisely quantify the losses” to the Legal Defense Fund is being undertaken.
The lawsuit filed by Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer, his wife and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger alleges that Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir — infamous for its “playbook” of election-year tactics that include “chastising” City Council members — harassed them for political gain. The playbook, once posted on the law firm’s website, PoliceAttorney.com, has since been taken down.
The Costa Mesa Police Officers’ Assn. and Chris Lanzillo, a private investigator, are also named as defendants in the civil-action lawsuit filed in August.
Lanzillo, a former Riverside police detective working for Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir, is accused of following Righeimer home on Aug. 22, 2012, and reporting to police that the councilman was driving drunk. A police officer then arrived at Righeimer’s home and conducted a field sobriety test, which Righeimer passed.
Costa Mesa’s police association was one of Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir’s clients at the time, though the group denied being involved in what Righeimer called a “a setup.” The union later fired the firm.
Righeimer and Mensinger have referred questions about their lawsuit to their attorney, Vince Finaldi, of Irvine-based Manly, Stewart & Finaldi.
Righeimer said he could comment, however, on Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir’s pending closure.
“I don’t think them closing is any coincidence, given how they handle their business and how they operate, that something like this would happen,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, I don’t care how they collapse.
“Al Capone went to jail for tax fraud.”
Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir’s closing doesn’t affect the lawsuit “one bit,” Finaldi said.
“We didn’t really imagine that the Lackie Dammeier firm would be able to continue as it was previously organized, given the severe allegations that were made against it,” the lawyer said. “We just didn’t expect the solution to happen at such a rapid pace.”
Finaldi said he didn’t know if the firm’s tactics were a “gimmick” or merely representative of a few “bad apples.”
“And if they did have a few bad apples, how many?” Finaldi said. “Was it the whole tree?”
His clients’ claims are “indicative of the fact that there was a major, major problem with that firm, and we’re right on with our lawsuit,” Finaldi said.
On Thursday, the president of the Costa Mesa Police Officers’ Assn., Sgt. Ed Everett, said he hadn’t heard that the firm was closing and couldn’t speak on the matter.
“Due to the ongoing litigation, I’ve been advised not to make any comments,” Everett said.
Saku Ethir, a managing partner with Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir, has called the lawsuit politically motivated.
“Unfortunately for Jim Righeimer and the other plaintiffs, this case will be tried in a civil court, not a press conference or a campaign fundraiser,” Ethir wrote in an Aug. 21 prepared statement. “Based on the reported allegations, this lawsuit is absolutely meritless. Of course in politics, allegations seem to be all you need to keep your name in the news.”