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Costa Mesa racks up legal bills; councilwoman blames new colleagues

Photo: From left, Costa Mesa Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, Mayor Gary Monahan and Councilwoman Wendy Leece listen to a speaker during a hearing on a budget plan on June 21. Credit: Jae C. Hong / Associated Press The city of Costa Mesa's main legal counsel charged $817,913 in fees for the 2010-2011 fiscal year -- the most the Jones & Mayer law firm has billed the city for a single year, records show.

Costa Mesa racked up twice as much on legal fees in 2010-11 than in the previous fiscal year and has gone 54% over budget, the Daily Pilot reported.

The invoice from the Fullerton firm was $287,363 over what Costa Mesa had budgeted. The firm, which has been under contract with the city since 2004-05, had never exceeded more than $550,000 in a single year.

Councilwoman Wendy Leece blamed the increases on her new council colleagues.

"My observation is that the city attorney was involved in a lot of meetings, received and answered telephone calls that we were billed for [and] that relate a lot to the proposed changes by the new members of the council," she said.

Between April and June, Jones & Mayer billed Costa Mesa $44,455 for council-related work and nearly $30,000 each for city manager-related and Police Department-related work. When combined with work related to code enforcement, the city rang up $125,916 in non-litigation billings.

Much of the costs went to courtroom litigation related to the Orange County Fairgrounds, medical marijuana dispensary lawsuits and frequent, routine lawsuits filed against police officers, records show.

The city faces a slew of legal issues coming into the next fiscal year, from local marijuana dispensary laws and defending itself from an organized labor lawsuit to complications that can come with new police officers as experienced ones leave for other departments or are laid off.

"We're taking the risk of more lawsuits from lack of experience and lack of understanding of the law," Leece said.


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Photo: Costa Mesa Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, left, Mayor Gary Monahan and Councilwoman Wendy Leece listen to a speaker during a hearing on a budget plan on June 21. Credit: Jae C. Hong / Associated Press

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L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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