Friday, April 5, 2002
Yaffe Bars Compton From Paying Former Mayor’s Legal Fees, Back Pay
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge yesterday granted a temporary injunction that prevents the city of Compton from footing the bill for the $840,000 in legal fees ex-Mayor Omar Bradley racked up while fighting the city’s June election results, along with $43,000 in disputed back wages for the ousted mayor.
Judge David Yaffe ruled Compton may not continue forward with a late February decision by the pro-Bradley City Council to pay the fees of Bradley Hertz, who represented Bradley in his electoral challenge.
Bradley returned to office briefly in February after Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Judith Chirlin announced a surprise ruling that replaced Mayor Eric Perrodin with his opponent, Bradley. Days later, this district’s Court of Appeal reinstated Perrodin pending the outcome of his appeal.
Bradley claimed the election process was rife with fraud, even alleging that armed men were stationed at polling places and that Compton officials blundered by not randomly selecting the order of candidate names on the June 5 ballot. The names appeared in the same order on the primary ballot.
Chirlin ruled that Perrodin unfairly benefited from having his name appear first on the June ballot, citing an expert’s opinion that some voters cast ballots for Perrodin only because his name appeared before Bradley’s.
The injunction, which is expected to be signed by the judge Tuesday, will remain in effect until 30 days after either the appellate panel upholds Chirlin’s Feb. 8 ruling or Chirlin awards attorney fees herself, Yaffe said.
A hearing on attorney fees for Bradley is scheduled to be heard in Chirlin’s courtroom May 3.
“A lot will turn on what she says,” Ronald Wilson, an attorney representing Compton, said. He noted that the city recently decided to not pay the fees pending a decision from the courts.
The injunction comes as a result of a lawsuit filed last month by Compton Fire Department employee Margaret Mitchell. Yaffe attached a $50,000 bond to the conditions of the injunction.
Mitchell’s attorney, Glenn Rothner of Pasadena, said Mitchell and her supporters are currently looking into ways to raise the money. In the alternative, a surety could post the bond in exchange for a $5,000 fee, Rothner said.
Wilson argued the City Council had a right to settle a claim brought against the city and likened the council’s decision to pay the lawyer fees and Bradley’s back pay to settling a claim for a car accident the city could be liable for before it even gets filed in court.
“The city does have a right to resolve a disputed claim in the absence of a finding by a trial court,” Wilson said.
Wilson also argued the city was entitled to pay the fees because the elections contest provided a public benefit to Compton, by exposing corruption surrounding the election and by providing an opportunity for election reform.
But Rothner countered that because the City Council didn’t have a right to take Bradley’s side in the court challenge to Perrodin’s election and was not required to pay for his legal fees, the council was just giving away taxpayer money.
“If the claim was for something the city had no obligation to pay, the making of that payment would have been a gift of public funds,” Rothner said.
Outside of court Rothner celebrated the decision. “We don’t have to be subjected to the whims of the city manager,” he said.
“We’re gratified because we’ve been having to deal with a moving target,” he said. “The court has finally frozen the frame.”
Wilson said he didn’t see the decision to grant the injunction as positive or negative for the city.
“No harm, no foul,” he said.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company