Law firm at heart of suit is raided

Prosecutors last week raided a law firm being sued by Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger, according to published reports.

The Orange County district attorney secured a warrant last week and searched the Upland office of Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir, the Voice of OC reported Tuesday.

The nonprofit news organization reviewed a Superior Court log showing that district attorney's investigators raided the firm Thursday.

Investigators left the office with boxes of documents, according to the San Bernardino County Sentinel, which first reported the story.

In addition, Voice of OC reported that the warrant included a Rancho Cucamonga home owned by the family of one of the firm's partners, Dieter Dammeier.

A chief of staff and a spokeswoman in the district attorney's office did not return the Daily Pilot's calls Monday seeking comment about the raid.

Saku Ethir, a managing partner at the law firm, did not immediately return an email and message left Tuesday afternoon.

In 2012, Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir used a private investigator, Chris Lanzillo, who tailed Righeimer's SUV home from a sports bar one night and called 911. Lanzillo alleged that the then-councilman appeared to be driving drunk, though it was determined later that he had only been drinking Diet Coke.

The firm previously represented the Costa Mesa Police Officers' Assn., but the association dropped the firm shortly after the incident involving Righeimer. Representatives from the association have said they were in no way involved in, nor did they sign off on, Lanzillo's assignment, which also involved surveillance of Councilman Gary Monahan at his bar.

Righeimer, his wife, Lene, and Mensinger are suing the law firm, alleging emotional distress caused by its aggressive tactics. The Orange County Superior Court lawsuit, which also names Lanzillo and the Costa Mesa Police Officers' Assn., alleges intimidation and harassment. It was filed in August, about a year after the incident.

Righeimer's election was opposed by the CMPOA, which campaigned against him. Righeimer has long been a proponent of reducing public-employee pensions and other compensation that he argues are financially unsustainable. His opponents, however, question his math and assert that Costa Mesa must remain competitive with other cities when it comes to hiring police and other employees.

It is unclear from the published stories what the district attorney's office was after or whether any of it was specific to the case involving the Costa Mesa councilmen.

"I think that our lawsuit only scratches at the surface of the egregious conduct that they've been engaged in," Vince Finaldi, who is representing the councilmen in their suit, said of Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir. "And the fact that they've been raided by the D.A.'s office indicates that I'm right."

Public officials in several Southern California communities have complained about the law firm's tactics on behalf of police unions. The firm also published online some advice in the form a "playbook" showing how to pressure elected and appointed officials into acquiescing to union demands.

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