Venezia: Lawsuit against Newport started with a Sister City trip


There are two sides to every story.

And on Sept. 28, Newport Beach city officials plan to head to Orange County Superior Court in Santa Ana to tell theirs. They are going to court to defend themselves against an unusual lawsuit brought by resident Kent Moore.

Moore asserts that Newport “has violated its policies, its grant agreements and state law with respect to the funding and oversight of the Newport Beach Sister City Assn.,” according to the legal filing.

Moore’s attorney, Melinda Luthin, claims city officials either ignored or stonewalled Moore’s document requests, which she argues fall under the California Public Records Act.


To give you some background, Moore served on the Newport Beach Sister City Assn., which has worked with sister city Okazaki, Japan, for 10 years, and then resigned after controversy arose with the Sister City 2010 group’s trip to Antibes, France, which he wasn’t on.

According to Moore, concerns raised in an incident report filed after Antibes included allegations that trip chaperone Justin Myers, son of then-Sister City board President Cherri Myers, allowed an incident of underage drinking to take place and that a DUI on his driving record should have disqualified him from being a chaperon.

In addition, Moore claims trip expenses weren’t verified by receipts or other means.

After the trip, Cherri Myers stepped down from the board, and Justin Myers resigned.

The Myers dispute Moore’s claims, as does the city.

Justin Myers says Moore was a longtime family friend who knew he’d had a DUI in 2009 and that he provided proof that his license was intact before the trip.

“Kent was part of the process for me being selected as a chaperone,” he says. “I also had taken two other groups to France, and one to Japan between 2007 and 2009, without any issue or complaints.”

Underage drinking?

In the French airport at the end of the trip, Myers says, a 17-year-old student bought beer. A younger boy grabbed the beer, pretending to drink it.

When Myers saw this, he says, he threw it away.

There is no legal drinking age in France, but in 2010, it became illegal to sell alcohol to anyone under 18 (up from 16).

Myers says he submitted detailed reports of all expenditures after the trip.

Since the Sister City Assn. receives grant money from the city, Moore called for an investigation into the allegations, requesting copies of grant documents and correspondence among city officials regarding the matter. He also asked Sister City for documents.

Since Councilmen Keith Curry and Don Webb were on the trip, they were brought into this, as was current Mayor Ed Selich, who was not on the trip.

Though no city officials were chaperones, the city felt that looking into questions raised about the supervision of the students was prudent, says City Manager Dave Kiff.

“Based on a review, we determined that none of the youth that participated in the program were ever put at risk,” he says. “We did, however, think it was a good idea for the Sister City Assn. to modify some of its procedures, and the association agreed to make changes to its program in 2011.”

Luthin isn’t completely satisfied that the city has complied with the document requests.

Moore requested 21 separate categories of documents from 2008 to 2014, Kiff says.

City Hall was moving offices during that time, so it did what Kiff called a “rolling production of documents” and produced documents as they became available.

“As of June 2015, all responsive documents were turned over to the requesting party,” Kiff says.

Luthin complains that the approximately 500 pages she eventually got were not in chronological order, some were upside down, and some didn’t even pertain to the issue.

There were 15 copies of the 2009 grant document, she says.

Luthin tells me it cost $2,221 in process-server fees to serve witness subpoenas to five people, including Kiff, Curry and Selich, that normally should have cost about $62 per person.

“They were evading service and ran like cockroaches,” she says.

She alleges that she even sent a process server to a City Council meeting, but he was told that he would be arrested if he tried to serve the subpoenas there.

Kiff says no one with the city tried to evade being served, though Luthin says servers had trouble catching up to Selich.

Selich says she’s “delusional,” since the city attorney knew he’d be in the Mariner’s Conference Room, Bay 2C, at 3:30 p.m. Aug. 3 to accept service.

Curry says the evasion accusation is “simply a lie” and that Luthin is using the lawsuit “to shake down the taxpayers for personal financial gain.”

But, she says, “It’s the responsibility of the agency to reimburse the member of the public for his expenses when he is forced to go to court to get the agency to obey the law.”

Moore has spent over $100,000 in legal fees that he hopes to get back if his lawsuit prevails.

Kiff estimates that Newport has spent about $150,000 to $200,000 on this so far.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at Listen to her weekly radio segment on “Sunday Brunch with Tom and Lynn” from 11 a.m. to noon on KOCI/101.5 FM.