Monday, March 9, 2015

Opinion Editorial - Mayors Can Get Off the Hook, But We Can't

The Illusion of Wizard of Oz  - Getting Past the Gov. Veil

Two week ago, in the San Gabriel Valley, two mayors appeared in the Los Angeles Superior Courts as defendants, one on Wednesday, the other on Thursday. They’re also from neighboring cities: Irwindale and Baldwin Park. In both instances, the court dismissed all or most of the causes of action. The message is clear: even when public officials are held to answer personally, their position in office protects them.

In the first case, the Los Angeles County District Attorney (DA) charged Mark Breceda, Mayor of Irwindale, with public corruption charges. According to the Tribune, part of the People’s allegation was that Breceda “ate at expensive restaurants, stayed at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Central Park, [and] used limousine services and attended New York Yankees games and Broadway shows[,]” all on city money. To give you some perspective, one night at the Ritz costs $650-$1,250. So one night there, is about a month's rent.

Mark Breceda at LA Superior Court
Disregarding the blatant abuse of public funds, the court found that the statute of limitations, however, had run against Breceda. The premise of statute of limitations is that the prosecutors have the right to file charges, and if they don’t enforce that right – they lose them. (Also, the citizens should have a peace of mind at some point in their lives for the wrongs that may have been done in the past.) 

In Breceda’s case, the court stated that the prosecutors lost the right to file charges because the City Manager of Irwindale knew about the crime – not the prosecutor. That doesn’t seem right though, does it? Breceda was the City Manager’s boss. Consider this: is a City Manager that’s making over $100,000 a year going to risk getting fired by outing his boss? I don’t think so.

The second case, involved me filing a civil lawsuit against the Mayor of Baldwin Park, Manuel Lozano in small claims court. The Mayor had filed a temporary restraining order (TRO) against me for alleging that I was stalking and terrorizing him. The small claims court indicated that it found the Mayor’s allegations questionable, and I dispute them as mostly perjured allegations. Regardless, the (TRO) judge ruled that my conduct and speech were protected by Free Speech because it took place at the city park and the city hall. 

Mayor Manuel Lozano of Baldwin Park Outside Small Claims
In response, I filed a claim of abuse of process and malicious prosecution (which are two torts that involves abusing the court process to achieve an invidious end) against the Mayor. Because organizations can’t get a restraining order against an individual, the Mayor filed the TRO against me as an individual, which opened him up to liability on a personal level. The Mayor tried to make the argument that even if he did wrong, because he was a Mayor of the City - he shouldn't be held personally accountable. I was a bit surprised to see that the court even considered entertaining this argument, although briefly.

In ruling against me, the court ruled that malicious prosecution could not apply because the Mayor consulted with his attorney in “good faith”; therefore, the Mayor’s actions could not have been malicious. (The rationale is that people shouldn't be prosecuted if their lawyer tells them they have a claim in good faith. Remember, this wasn't a regular family law case.) Hence, is the court trying to say that as long as a person in power consults with an attorney first, (which laypeople generally don’t have access to) the victim is barred from bringing a claim against the perpetrator?

In both cases, although the individuals were held to account personally, their role in their office protected them. Breceda’s role as the City Manager’s boss protected him from being reported, hence, triggering a potential statute of limitation defense. In Lozano’s case, he consulted with the City Attorney (not his own private one), on public money, and that barred the victim from bringing charges against him, personally.

Both cases were extremely expensive to prosecute because of the sophistication involved. Nonetheless, the court held in both cases that delegation is a legal shield to both criminal and civil prosecution. The solution to this societal problem is best presented by Marge Simpson of the Simpsons: “You know, the courts may not be working any more, but as long as everyone is videotaping everyone else, justice will be done.”

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