COSTA MESA — City Council candidate Jim Righeimer's personal attorney has sent letters to the Costa Mesa Police Assn. and a local blogger, warning that he will seek legal "remedies" against them if they print falsehoods about his client's past.
Righeimer, who chairs the city Planning Commission, is at odds with the police union regarding his position that public safety pension contributions should be reduced to help improve city finances. He recently got into a debate with officers about the wisdom of staging a DUI checkpoint during weekday rush-hour traffic on Harbor Boulevard.
It is widely expected that the police union is going to campaign against him before the Nov. 2 election, sources have said.
The five-paragraph letter from attorney Mark Bucher, Righeimer's brother-in-law, outlines three falsehoods and distortions that arose when Righeimer last ran for office. The accusations involve Righeimer's personal finances, dealings in real estate and a minor brush with the law.
The Daily Pilot has elected not to repeat the allegations verbatim, as they are known to be inaccurate or exaggerated.
"We all know what this campaign is about: I want to ask tough questions about budgets and the high cost of public employees pensions," said Righeimer. "The unions want to smear me and my family instead of answering the questions. I will defend my family vigorously while continuing to ask the public employee unions the tough questions. The voters will not be fooled by their smears, dishonesty and under-handed tactics."
Allen Rieckhof of the police association said some of Righeimer's past is just a matter of semantics.
"We think he's trying to get ahead of his history," Rieckhof said. "It's a desperate attempt to stifle the police union from exposing Righeimer's checkered past … we'll let the voters of Costa Mesa make up their minds after they review all the information they have versus a one-sided statement."
Though the letter is concerned with inaccuracies, Righeimer, a former Pilot columnist, did have some business and personal problems in the late 1980s and early- to mid-1990s.
Records show that he had several tax liens against him and was sued in civil and small claims court. It took him nine years and selling his house, but Righeimer said he has paid back everything he owed.
As to his dealings with police, records show that Righeimer's encounter with the law was a misdemeanor citation in 1994 for drinking in public during Fourth of July festivities on the Balboa Peninsula. He received a ticket but was not arrested after stepping off a friend's patio and onto public property with a drink in his hand.
That citation had previously been published in newspaper accounts about the candidate.
One of the attorney's warnings was sent to Geoff West, who publishes A Bubbling Cauldron, a Costa Mesa blog.
"Some of these statements were made the last time Mr. Righeimer ran for office, but as you may know, publishing a false and defamatory allegation under the guise that the statement was previously made is itself actionable," read the letter. "If you publish these statements or participate in any manner in their publication, you will be engaging in defamation against Mr. Righeimer and causing him enormous damage. In the event any such statements are published, Mr. Righeimer intends to pursue every legal remedy available to him."
West, who has been openly critical of Righeimer on his website, viewed the letter as an effort to silence political criticism.
"This is the way he handles opposition; it's to handle it with lawsuits," West said. "Each time he's run for public office he's failed, and now I understand why. The great irony is I voted for him once. I apologize to the public for that."