Response to Thomas Rice (February 20, 2017)

Dear Mr. Rice,

I am writing in regard to some comments that were attributed to you in a Daily Press article about my recent address to residents of Apple Valley. I don’t know if you were present or had an opportunity to hear a tape of my remarks, but in any event it is certainly true that I criticized members of your law firm for their apparent ignorance of or indifference to California Code of Civil Procedure Section 1240.650(c). It is also true that, like yourself, I do not specialize in eminent domain law. However, having practiced both tax and criminal law for more than thirty years, I am confident that I possess a sufficient level of competence to understand the significance of plainly-worded statutes outside of my customary areas of expertise. Perhaps you do as well.

I have never claimed that the BB&K attorneys who participated in Claremont’s failed takeover effort were truly ignorant of this law; it may well be the case that they knew about it, but for some reason failed to inform the Claremont city council, staff, and public of the possibility that we could lose $14 million in an unprecedented right-to-take challenge. From what I can tell, no one from BB&K — including yourself — has gotten around to informing the people of Apple Valley of this enormously consequential risk either. But it is unnecessary for you or anyone else to take my word for it. Both Claremont and Apple Valley maintain easily accessible online video libraries of past public meetings. I invite you to try to find even a single instance where any BB&K attorney has warned that the city could lose a right-to-take trial and have the eminent domain case dismissed, much less that it could result in a $14 million loss.

Quite frankly, I would be surprised if you possess sufficient information about what transpired in the Claremont case to make such a definitive assessment of its relevance (or lack thereof) to the efforts that are underway in Apple Valley. It is understandable that you would assume that the BB&K litigation team — which has guided the Claremont takeover effort from its inception, and has now apparently moved on to your town — is somehow not responsible for such a spectacularly disastrous result. But loyalty to one’s firm is no substitute for professional diligence. It should hardly be necessary for me to suggest that even the slightest possibility that Apple Valley will suffer a similar fate ought to be your paramount concern right now. Perhaps there are significant distinctions that can be made between your case and ours. If so, it is incumbent on you to point them out — but we both know that you won’t.

Your statement It’s another example of Liberty trying to sell the notion that the Claremont case is similar to Apple Valley’s when it’s not is false, and if I thought that it mattered I would insist on a retraction. I did not speak on behalf of Liberty or at its invitation. I have never had any interaction whatsoever with anyone from that company, and neither they nor anyone else had any say whatsoever as to the content of my remarks. I drove more than one hundred miles Thursday evening on my own time and at my own expense solely because I felt that it was important for the members of your community to be as fully informed as possible as to the costs and risks of this endeavor — and that if I didn’t tell them about what happened in Claremont, they may never have known about it at all. You certainly can’t be counted on to bring it up.

Let me close by saying that in my entire legal career, I have never personally witnessed or even heard of such an inappropriately contentious approach to such a complex problem as you and other members of your firm have adopted in the Claremont and Apple Valley cases. In a situation such as this — where cities are being asked to risk enormous sums of scarce public funds on speculative litigation that even under the most optimistic assumptions promises little in the way of tangible rewards — you should be going out of your way to anticipate and warn the council and the public about everything that can possibly go wrong. And yet, as your comments to the Daily Press make clear, you are far more interested in stifling well-founded concerns and casting aspersions on those who raise them. It is now evident how that strategy played out in Claremont, and I hope you are prepared to assume responsibility for the outcome in Apple Valley.

Very truly yours,

Jim Belna
Claremont, CA

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