Police union denies tracking councilman

In a court filing last week, Costa Mesa's police union distanced itself from its former law firm by saying it wasn't involved in a plan that planted a GPS tracking device on a city councilman's truck.

The Costa Mesa Police Officers' Assn., law firm Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir and private investigator Chris Lanzillo are co-defendants in an August lawsuit brought by Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger that accuses the trio of intimidation and harassment for political gain.

In November, the councilmen added allegations that the three defendants invaded Mensinger's privacy by attaching a GPS tracker to his truck while it sat in his Costa Mesa home's driveway.

"For Mensinger to make these allegations is reckless and inappropriate," the police association's lawyers fired back in their Dec. 17 response. "Plaintiffs have made the mistake of shooting before aiming."

Mensinger accuses all three defendants as being responsible for the electronic tracking, but the union argues it shouldn't be held accountable if the law firm and Lanzillo were involved in any misconduct because they were acting independently.

"The association had no knowledge or involvement with the GPS tracking device," police association President Det. Sgt. Ed Everett said. "Nor did we hire or direct anyone to get 'dirt' on anyone."

The association has been defending itself separately from Lanzillo and Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir.

Though they made no admissions, lawyers for the law firm and Lanzillo argued in court papers that placing a tracking device on Mensinger's truck wouldn't be an invasion of privacy — calling the lawsuit "political ranting."

"The location of Mr. Mensinger's vehicle while driving on public streets, or while parked in his driveway, is a fact plainly visible to any member of the public," their response states. "Plaintiffs have also failed to allege how Mr. Mensigner was harmed by discovering more than one year later that his movements on public thoroughfares were known by others."

Vince Finaldi, a lawyer for the councilmen, said the defendants' arguments have deteriorated.

"Their attempts to justify their actions have gotten so absurd that I'm not going to even dignify them with a response," he said.

Placing an electronic tracking device on a car without the owner's consent is a misdemeanor unless the installation is made for approved law enforcement purposes, according to California penal code.

Mensinger has said through his attorney that he learned of the tracking device from an investigator with the Orange County district attorney's office, which is investigating Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir.

In addition to the tracking, the councilmen's lawsuit alleges that Lanzillo, the CMPOA and the law firm used tactics from an online "playbook" to slander, assault and spy on Righeimer and Mensinger to gain the upper hand in contract negotiations.

Many of the allegations center on an August 2012 night when Lanzillo followed Righeimer from Skosh Monahan's, a Costa Mesa bar owned by Councilman Gary Monahan, and called 911 to report a possible DUI.

A police officer responded to Righeimer's home and administered a DUI test that determined he was sober. Righeimer later produced receipts for two Diet Cokes.

The union dropped Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir around the time of the DUI call incident, and the law firm has since dissolved after accusations of double or triple billing and an Orange County district attorney's office raid on its Upland headquarters.

A lawyer representing Lanzillo and Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir did not return a voicemail left Thursday.

All three defendants have asked that the councilmen's complaint be thrown out because it doesn't present legally sufficient reasons to sue.

An Orange County Superior Court judge will hear arguments next month to decide whether the lawsuit can proceed.

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