Arbitrator: Righeimer is in debt

Costa Mesa Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer owes $194,706.37 in fees after a company he's affiliated with failed to pay for legal work related to a Northern California development, according to court documents.

The Feb. 3 ruling against Righeimer came through arbitration between him and his attorney, Milburn A. Matthews, who represented Righeimer and Marketplace at Weston Ranch LLC, a stakeholder in a Stockton-area community called Weston Ranch.

Righeimer is a minority owner in Marketplace.

The arbitrator's ruling against Righeimer shows that he's paid more than $57,000 to Matthews. The money still owed is a mixture of nearly $100,000 in unpaid bills, court fees and interest on those debts compiled over the years.

According to court documents, between 2007 and 2011, Matthews did more than a $100,000 worth of services for Righeimer and Marketplace, which the court ruled were one in the same.

Righeimer represents Marketplace, but said he believed only the company, not him as an individual, was on the hook for the legal fees.

"I've always paid my debts and my bills, and this was just part of a big ol' economic downturn that we've gone through, but we'll get it settled and that's where it's at," Righeimer said. "We're in the middle of settlement negotiations now."

The ruling was first reported Wednesday by the OC Weekly.

The Weston Ranch project's two biggest backers were Lehman Bros. and SunCal, a community development firm. For much of the project's timeline, Lehman and SunCal were covering many of its costs, including the legal fees.

But when Lehman collapsed and became insolvent in 2008, their bankruptcy left the investors, including Marketplace, responsible for the debts, Righeimer said.

"Like many other communities, Lehman just left these things unfunded," said David Soyka, senior vice president of public affairs for SunCal. "A lot of people who did work from the lowest levels, a lot of them got stiffed."

Twitter: @JosephSerna

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