Judge denies contempt motion against Mensinger

An Orange County Superior Court judge this month refused to hold Costa Mesa Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger in contempt of court for revealing evidence that someone surveilled him, court records show.

Judge David Hoffer on Dec. 13 denied the contempt motion by the Costa Mesa Police Officers' Assn. asserting that Mensinger and his attorneys violated a court order by publicizing confidential allegations that a GPS tracking device had been placed on Mensinger's truck during the 2012 election season.

In November, Mensinger and his lawyers, Vince Finaldi and John Manly, held a press conference announcing they would add the allegations to their lawsuit against the police association, its former law firm, Lackie, Dammeier McGill & Ethir, and a private investigator, Chris Lanzillo. Mensinger and Mayor Jim Righeimer allege in the complaint that they were harassed, intimidated and embarrassed so the association could gain the upper hand in contract negotiations.

About two weeks later, the police association's lawyers objected by filing a motion accusing Mensinger of disregarding a court order that sealed results of two search warrants served as part of a criminal investigation involving the police association, Lanzillo and the Upland-based Lackie, Dammeier law firm.

"By obtaining and distributing sealed information, [Mensinger and his lawyers] have caused irreparable harm to the CMPA and others," the motion stated. "CMPA has not been charged with a crime and has fully cooperated with the district attorney's investigation.

"However, Mensinger, Manly and Finaldi are making public allegations of criminal conduct by calling press conferences, issuing press releases and responding to news media questions. Their distribution of confidential information and/or false information prejudices CMPA and others connected to the investigation."

Manly and Finaldi, however, argued they weren't subject to or aware of the court order.

Hoffer then threw out the contempt motion.

According to a sworn declaration from Mensinger reviewed by the Daily Pilot, the councilman only became aware of the alleged tracking because the Orange County district attorney's office revealed it to him during an interview.

In early November, investigators called Mensinger and asked him to bring in his calendar to compare where he was on specific dates, according court documents.

During the interview, investigators used Mensinger's calendar to show him that he had been electronically tracked and revealed that someone had attached a GPS device to the undercarriage of his truck, according to the councilman's declaration.

In a statement asking a judge to dismiss the police association's motion, the district attorney's office said it did nothing wrong by informing Mensinger.

"An allegation that the district attorney's office violated a court order by disclosing information during the interview of a victim of a crime as part of their investigation is meritless," Senior Deputy District Atty. Robert Mestman wrote.

Police association President Ed Everett said Friday that Mensinger and Righeimer are trying to smear Costa Mesa's police officers and are willing to air evidence from an ongoing grand jury investigation to do so.

"I think it's just horrific that city councilmen would do that," he said.

Grand jury investigations and proceedings are typically shielded from public view. The district attorney's office has so far not confirmed to the Daily Pilot that a grand jury is investigating the matter.

However, the district attorney's office explicitly told Mensinger he could talk about the tracking publicly, Finaldi said, adding that the public has a right to know about potentially illegal activity.

"We're fairly certain this is not the only person they have done this to," Finaldi said. "What would make sense is they were doing this as part of their business model. That makes the question, 'How many other people did this happen to?'"

The police union has denied any involvement in or knowledge of the GPS tracking or other wrongdoing alleged in the lawsuit. The association is defending itself in the lawsuit separately from the Lackie, Dammeier firm and Lanzillo, saying members had no knowledge of any impropriety.

Many of the councilmen's accusations stem from a night in August 2012 when Lanzillo called 911 to report a possible case of driving under the influence while he followed Righeimer from a bar.

Righeimer passed a sobriety test when a Costa Mesa police officer responded to his home, and the mayor later produced receipts for two Diet Cokes.

Members of the association have said their organization had nothing to do with arranging the DUI stop.

The councilmen's lawsuit alleges it was the GPS tracker on Mensinger's truck that led Lanzillo to the bar that night.

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World