Claremont cuts ties with its city attorney, law firm (October 26, 2017)

CLAREMONT » Elected officials in Claremont have decided to sever ties with its city attorney and the law firm that has represented the city after 25 years.

The announcement comes two weeks after the city agreed to pay Golden State Water nearly $5 million for losing a legal battle over the water system.

During the City Attorney evaluation this evening, we mutually decided that after 25 years of service to the city, Sonia Carvalho will retire. The City Council will work with the City Manager to find a successor, Mayor Larry Schroeder announced at Tuesday’s meeting.

Although Claremont described it as a retirement, Carvalho will continue to practice law at the firm Best Best and Krieger, commonly known as BB&K, which has represented the city since the late 1980s. Carvalho has worked with Claremont since about 1992, but was named city attorney in 1999, said Denise Nix, spokesperson for the law firm.

BB&K values its long relationship with the city, and the opportunity to contribute over the years to such an excellent community, she said in an email Thursday.

City Manager Tony Ramos said with Carvalho’s departure he will provide the council options for a new legal firm and the council will decide. Ramos declined to comment when asked if the Golden State case affected their decision.

Speaking by phone, Schroeder declined Thursday to answer any questions about Carvalho’s service to the council or the litigation.

Opponents of the water takeover fight blamed the city’s legal counsel for ill-advising them on the case.

In an unprecedented move, Claremont had tried to acquire the rights to run the local water pipes via eminent domain, or a government taking that includes compensation. The process is often used to buy land to build public projects, such as highways.

Ultimately, in the courtroom, Claremont seemed outmatched against Golden State’s legal defense team. The decision left Claremont on the hook for more than $7 million in legal fees accrued by Golden State’s legal team.

Claremont spent $6 million since 2012 in its quest to take over local control of the water system by eminent domain. On Oct. 11, the city and Golden State announced the two sides reached an agreement in which Claremont will pay $4.8 million.

Resident Jim Belna said Claremont should have acted to remove BB&K once the judge issued the final ruling in December.

I do think it’s best for the city to have a new law firm, he said.

Belna went on to say he believed it was a conflict of interest to have BB&K provide city attorney services as well as legal representation in the case.

It was a poor idea to have the city attorney from the same firm oversee and advise the takeover, he said. The city is looking at her to look at the work and billing of the seniors in her firm.

Nix, however, said the law firm provided comprehensive and accurate advice. The City Council, she said, decided to proceed with the case after a public hearing and a resolution passed unanimously.

We are confident that BB&K and all its attorneys have fully complied with the law and all ethical requirements, Nix stated. There is nothing unusual about city attorneys, as part of their duties, undertaking litigation on behalf of their clients. The allegation that such representation may constitute an ethical violation is both novel and without merit.

Source: Liset Marquez, Daily Bulletin

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