Costa Mesa legal fees near $700K

Costa Mesa spent nearly $700,000 in legal fees through the end of January to defend itself from a lawsuit filed by its employees, invoices show.

Total fees have reached $692,379, according to invoices obtained this week by a Daily Pilot public records request.

That figure is

$186,000 higher than the $505,399 reported on the city's website earlier this week. Such a disparity online was a mistake, however, as the total did not account for the months of July, August or January, according to city Assistant Finance Director Colleen O'Donoghue.

The website initially didn't reflect any expenses between July and October — a period where the city accrued $233,444 in fees for representation, according to invoices from Jones Day, the firm acting as the city's outside counsel in the lawsuit from the Costa Mesa City Employees Assn.

O'Donoghue said the firm sometimes sent its bills late, and the amount paid during those months was reflected in the November total.

The website was amended to reflect the fees from the three months by 1 p.m. Thursday.

City spokesman Bill Lobdell said all legal expenditures appeared on City Council agendas and were current.

The Jones Day fees comprise the bulk of reported litigation fees the city posts on its website; they make up about 61% of the fees the city spent so far this year.

Earlier this month, the city council approved an additional $900,000 for the self-insurance fund, which is meant to cover anticipated legal costs.

Last July the city anticipated spending $250,000 in defending its outsourcing plan.

Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer said the money the city has paid to defend its outsourcing plan doesn't compare to what it will save in the future.

"This amount is dwarfed by the amount the city can save, even by the first year we can outsource with some departments," he said, adding that he believes the city will save $600,000 the first year by outsourcing the Police Department's jail.

It can also save around $500,000 in street sweeping staffing fees, and even more with a change in equipment, he said.

Initially, Righeimer said the savings would be closer to $1 million, but he later amended his statement after Orange County Employees Assn. spokeswoman Jennifer Muir questioned the figure.

Jones Day has represented such high-profile clients as JPMorgan Chase, Dell and DirecTV, according to the firm's website. The firm bills the city $495 an hour.

The counsel is well worth it, Righeimer said.

"I think we chose the firm we got because we thought they could do the best job," he said. "It became pretty clear pretty quickly there was more expertise needed on a very complicated issue … what can a general law city outsource, and what can they not outsource?

"That's not a Costa Mesa issue, or Orange County; that's a statewide issue. It makes all the sense in the world to make sure we win this case."

Righeimer said he believes the CMCEA would have sued the city anyway, irrespective of how the council proceeded with the layoffs.

"I think there's an urban legend being created by the unions that if we [had] somehow done this process differently, they wouldn't have sued us," he said. "We have to defend the citizens of Costa Mesa from being shaken down by their own employees."

According to Muir, for the OCEA, which is supporting the CMCEA's lawsuit, the attorney fees aren't justifiable.

"I think it's absolute robbery from the taxpayers of Costa Mesa by a city council who only wanted to advance a political agenda and who still has no evidence about whether they're outsourcing scheme could affect the city's budget or level of services," Muir said. "To say they're doing this to save money is laughable. It's disgusting. They're doing this to advance a political agenda and they should stop."

lauren.williams@latimes.com

Twitter: @lawilliams30

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