Marina Coast Attorney Fees for 2012 Top $700,000
November 23, 2012
If lawyers are sharks, then Marina Coast Water District is one fearless surfer.
The district has been thick with contract law firms this year, hiring at least eight since January 2012—and rotating through three different attorneys in the role of general counsel.
A public records request made by the Weekly produced records detailing at least $700,000 in legal costs incurred by the district this year alone:
$491,103 for S.F.-based Friedman Dumas & Springwater, which represents the district on the California Public Utilities Commission application for the now-defunct Regional Desalination Project (and the appeal of the Ag Land Trust lawsuit);
$138,926 for Salinas-based Noland Hamerly Etienne & Hoss, which provided general counsel until its services were terminated in August;
$9,385 for Sacramento-based Remy Thomas Moose & Manley regarding litigation from Ag Land Trust challenging the environmental impact report for the proposed desalination plant;
$8,425 for San Jose-based Hoge Fenton Jones & Appel, counseling the district in matters relating to employment and personnel;
$4,904 for DL White Law Group, advising the district "on various issues";
$2,935 for DLA Piper, which is representing the district in Monterey County District Attorney and California Fair Political Practices investigations relating to Marina Coast General Manager Jim Heitzman;
$2,080 for McPharlin Sprinkles & Thomas, which did an employee compensation and classification study; and
$2,007 for Richard Watson & Gershon, which represents the district on basin adjudication and water rights.
Then there's the issue of the district's own right-hand lawyers. Salinas attorney Lloyd Lowrey of Noland Hamerly Etienne & Hoss, who served for nearly 30 years as the district's contract general counsel, was terminated from the district in early August.
District records indicate there was never a contract between the district and Lowrey's firm, even though the relationship dates back to 1986. The district does not have copies of its contracts with another six law firms hired between 1997 and 2006.
Lowrey was replaced by the hiring of Hollister-based attorney Terra Chaffee, who began as in-house counsel Aug. 6. But two months later, in early October, Chaffee left the district after being paid $33,349.
Neither Heitzman nor Chaffee will offer the particulars on why she quit so soon. "They determined that they had other opportunities I guess to pursue and that’s the status," Heitzman says.
After Lowrey made another interim cameo on the dais, an unrelated firm, Griffith and Masuda, stepped up as the district's interim counsel. The contract dated Oct. 23 stipulates attorney rates of $215-$225 per hour.