Marin Independent Journal
By Richard Halstead,
POSTED: 03/30/18, 5:49 PM PDT | UPDATED: 6 DAYS AGO
18 COMMENTSThe county has agreed to pay $89,935 in legal fees following a ruling that the county improperly sued a lawyer who was seeking county documents under the California Public Records Act.
Edward Yates, a Larkspur lawyer, said the county executed the settlement agreement March 14.
Yates was sued by the county in June 2017 after he sought public records on behalf of Friends of West Tam Valley, a community group that focuses on land use and development issues.
“The cross-claim, which was essentially a separate lawsuit, was completely frivolous and merely an attempt to deter my clients from enforcing their rights to obtain public records from the county,” said Yates in a statement.
Marin County Counsel Brian Washington said, “I’m not going to relitigate those issues here. That is why we settled the case. At best you could say Yates’ description of the litigation is highly incomplete.”
Lee Budish, co-chairman of Friends of West Tam Valley, said her group “started this effort in an attempt to understand the scope and possible environmental impacts of a potentially large scale development in Tam Valley.”
Friends of West Tam Valley became concerned after an application was submitted to the county’s planning division in February 2016 seeking a grading permit to build a single-family house on a paper street on Alta Way in Tamalpais Valley. A paper street is a road or street that appears on maps but has not been built.
In an April 21, 2016, letter to Brian Crawford, director of Marin County’s Community Development Agency, the Tam Design Review Board also expressed concern that the extension of Alta Way could result in the development of nine additional homes in the vicinity. The letter said the project applicants — Alta Way Partners LLC and Portage LLC — owned 10 parcels along paper streets in the area.
“We saw it as an attempt to get around the kind of scrutiny it would receive if it was in fact a subdivision,” said Design Review board member Alan Jones.
Daniel Chador, the Alta Way project manager, said he represents six or seven people who own the 10 lots along the Alta Way paper street.
“These are people who have been paying taxes on these properties, and they want to be able to do something with their lots,” Chador said.
The Board of Supervisors approved the hiring of an independent consultant to prepare a study of the Alta Way extension request a year ago, and that study has not yet been concluded.
Friends of West Tam Valley made requests for county records in late 2016. Some documents were produced, but others requested were not. Yates was then hired and sought the additional records unsuccessfully for five months before suing to obtain them.
The county initially defended the suit and in June 2017 sued Yates, accusing him of a variety of ethical breaches. But Marin Superior Court Judge Paul Haakenson eventually ruled in Yates’ favor in an anti-Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation (anti-SLAPP) motion. A SLAPP suit is a lawsuit designed to intimidate and silence critics. They have been made illegal in a number of jurisdictions on the basis that they infringe on freedom of speech.
Washington said, “We did have to settle the litigation because we indeed had not produced documents that we ended up determining needed to be produced.”
Washington said there was a “coordination issue” due to poor communication between the county’s Community Development Agency and its Department of Public Works.
“There was also an issue where different departments in the county had different practices in producing documents,” Washington said.
The Community Development Agency supplied the required public records and Public Works did not.
Yates said the county offered to settle the suit for the public records prior to Haakenson’s ruling on the anti-SLAPP motion but at that time was still refusing to pay the fees of his personal attorney. Yates said little of the information obtained through the public records request proved useful.
He said, “That is the ironic part of all this.”
Fran Nunez • 7 days ago
This type of behavior continues in this County because there is NO Accountability, NO Consequences. Thanks to all who went all the way to expose this particular instance. Special thanks to Marin Superior Court Judge Paul Haakenson . . too bad that it is the taxpayers that end up paying for the Supervisor's (Deciders) bad behavior.
Way-not • 7 days ago
"The Community Development Agency supplied the required public records and Public Works did not."
SO--What county bureaucrat pays the taxpayers back the $90 K pissed away because someone didn't know their job?
El Chino • 7 days ago
The County wasted $90k of taxpayers money, period!!!
The neighborhood impacted by this developer juggernaught has faced obstacle upon obstacle in requesting our legal right to "PUBLIC DOCUMENTS"
Steve Edgett • 7 days ago
In microcosm, this is another example of "the best government money can buy". Tam Valley is an area largely developed without modern codes, however, the codes created since the development of a 1919 map allowing the development of these lots are legitimate. Why would the county fail to act on behalf of its residents? For the individual homeowner, the county gives no relief, but where a developer marches in, suddenly the same officials want to do all they can to be "helpful". And why would the county sue someone who wanted nothing more than to see public records?
Roger • 8 days ago
One of you brave souls here need to write a letter to the IJ editor about this ...voicing concern about the county suing its very citizens when they simply request information.
bob silvestri • 8 days ago
True to form, the IJ coddles the County and presents the story as a false equivalency and downplays what really happened. SLAPP suits are not just illegal in "some jurisdictions." They are illegal in the State of California! At best you could say Brian Washington's description of the litigation is "highly incomplete."
For the full story go to:
Toni Huffines • 8 days ago
The Supervisors are responsible for this SLAPP suit and the resulting settlement. They approved the suit in one of their closed sessions. The settlement doesn’t even reflect the wasted time and money expended by County Counsel.
Start by getting rid of Judy Arnold. She’s a stale leftover from an earlier, less enlightened, time.
Fran Nunez Toni Huffines • 7 days ago
Yes, they are the deciders . . and Supervisor Connolly is an Attorney, with a legal background . Disgusting bully behavior . . and eventually .. even when they "lose", "they" don't lose . . .because there is NO accountability . . and the taxpayers pay . . . so their disgusting bully behavior will continue . .
Roger Toni Huffines • 8 days ago
Toni, yes ...I suspect Dick will ask Judy Arnold that question in the upcoming debate against candidate Toni Shroyer.
hillclintgonegirl • 9 days ago
The county has agreed to pay $89,935 in legal fees following a ruling that the county improperly sued a lawyer who was seeking county documents under the California Public Records Act...Yates was sued by the county in June 2017 after he sought public records. Marin Superior Court Judge Paul Haakenson eventually ruled in Yates’ favor in an anti-Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation (anti-SLAPP) motion. Gee, who to believe, the judge or the hack Marin County Counsel Brian Washington who said, "At best you could say Yates’ description of the litigation is highly incomplete.”Since he brought the baseless suit which cost the county almost $100,000 he should pay it and be fired.
Roger hillclintgonegirl • 8 days ago
Hill.girl, yes, fire Brian Washington. Send a message to the deep state. But sadly, it won't happen. The supervisors are just puppets of the govt employee unions who pay for their campaigns.
John Parulis • 9 days ago
This is part of a wasteful pattern by County council. The supervisors have the duty to look into this further and make some changes in the legal representation of the county. Here's a link to Community Venture Partners who ran into a similar problem. https://marinpost.org/blog/...
Eustace Baggs • 9 days ago
Would be nice to know the detail in the county's lawsuit. Shameful use of taxpayer money. Whoever recommended the lawsuit should be publicly identified and explain the reasoning. Then pay fo it from his pension.
bob silvestri Eustace Baggs • 8 days ago
Please see my comment above.
Roger bob silvestri • 8 days ago
Bob, do you think the IJ will do an editorial on this?
bob silvestri Roger • 8 days ago
That would be a surprise.
Roger bob silvestri • 21 hours ago
Bob, IJ editor did it today.
socialismisevi! • 9 days ago
THOSE WHO MADE THE DECISION TO MAKE THAT DENIAL.......
$$$ OUT OF THEIR OWN POCKETS
Ed is a environmental and open government lawyer in San Francisco California. Ed previously served as a Peace Corps Volunteer, Deputy County Counsel in Santa Barbara and Adjunct Professor of Land Use Law at Golden Gate University.