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Auburn pays out more than $62,000 and counting in Measure A lawsuits

Judge awarded attorney?s fees
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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A judge ruled Tuesday that the City of Auburn will have to pay more than $24,000 in legal fees to the authors of the ballot arguments and rebuttal against Measure A ? the failed initiative for Auburn to become a charter city, according to court documents obtained Friday. In her ruling, Placer County Superior Court Judge Colleen M. Nichols, ruled in favor of James Earp, Hank Gonzales, and the California Alliance for Jobs, awarding them the cost of attorney?s fees in a lawsuit authorized by City Clerk Joe Labrie in March. When ballot arguments for and against the initiative were printed, the city objected to the wording of the argument against the charter. Labrie authorized a lawsuit alleging that statements made in the ballot argument and rebuttal against Measure A were false and misleading. Nichols ruled in April that the authors of the ballot argument and rebuttal against Measure A ? James Earp, Hank Gonzales and the California Alliance for Jobs ? did not need to change their ballot argument or rebuttal. Earp, Gonzales and the California Alliance for Jobs filed a lawsuit against the city for legal fees incurred during the lawsuit, asking Nichols to rule in their favor on the basis that the legal fees arose from their exercise of protected free speech and defending a lawsuit which lacked merit. ?On the merits, I think council believes we were right. What the mistake I guess you can say is that we thought we would have a full argument before the judge in sufficient time that if we were proven right that the sample ballot would be rewritten to reflect the truth,? said Mayor Kevin Hanley. ?The judge had to make a decision to either throw the ballot arguments out and rewrite them only a few hours before Placer County had to go to print on the sample ballot.? Hanley said while the city council does not like having to spend the city?s money on lawsuits, they still believe three of the ballot arguments were false and were trying to ensure the information given to voters was true. In addition to the fees awarded Tuesday, the city had already spent $38,186.18 through the end of May to City Attorney Michael Colantuono related to the lawsuit. In June, Colantuono decided not to represent the city anymore in the matter based on an ethical conflict. After authorizing the lawsuit, Labrie changed his mind about its merits. Colantuono said last month that Labrie and the city council gave him conflicting instructions related to the lawsuit for attorney?s fees, so as the city attorney, he could not ethically represent them without compromising his duty to one or the other. The city hired the firm Porter Scott as its new legal representation in the matter. Final figures for the city?s total legal fees in the lawsuits were not available Friday, but will be reported on in a future edition of the Journal. Figures available so far for the legal fees incurred by the city, along with the $24,182.50 in legal fees that were awarded Tuesday, bring the city?s bill to $62,368.68 in the lawsuits. Councilmember Dr. Bill Kirby said while he agrees that the ballot arguments the city was suing over were false despite the ruling, he isn?t sure the council would make the decision to file a lawsuit over it looking back. He added that they made the best decision they could at the time. ?Hindsight is 20/20 and my perspective would be that the lawsuit over what the judge decided was essentially free speech was probably a mistake,? Kirby said. ?It was a distraction for the elections. There is no doubt about it. It?s time to get it behind us and get on with the people?s business.? When it came to the decision to go to court over the legal fees rather than settle, Kirby said they believed based on what the judge wrote in her original ruling that they had enough of a case not to have to pay the other side?s legal fees. In an interview about the lawsuit for attorney?s fees last month, Todd Stenhouse, spokesperson for Preserve Auburn ? No on Measure A, said the group had no further comment on the lawsuit. Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com, or follow her on Twitter @AJ_News.