From the Steve Collins Courtroom: Who Knew What When? Pretty Much Everyone, Back When RMC Deal Started
October 11, 2012
The two-day preliminary hearing for Steve Collins, the former Monterey County Water Resources Agency director charged with a conflict of interest in the Regional Desalination Project, is a little bit like a Russian novel.
There's been a lot of tedious exposition so far—the who's who of internal counsel, contracted counsel, general managers and boards of directors comprising the project partners (the county agency, Marina Coast Water District and California American Water).
But just before Monterey County Superior Court Judge Pamela Butler called for a lunch break, Assistant District Attorney Stephanie Hulsey paged to the part of the book that gets interesting: who was in on the RMC contract, and when.
In January 2010, as Collins was preparing to sign a contract with RMC for what was then a maximum of $25,000 (and later grew to a total of $160,000), Marina Coast General Manager Jim Heitzman raised his concern in an email to Marina Coast's then-attorney, Lloyd Lowrey, about Collins.
“He is a RMC sub[contractor], but we are bringing him to the negotiations so he needs to be brought up to speed. I hope this doesn’t affect his ability to vote as a member of the MCWRA,” Heitzman wrote.
Lowrey's response: “I do believe that Steve’s employment/engagement by RMC will create a conflict of interest that will require him not to participate or vote as a member of the MCWRA; but it’s Irv’s call, not mine,” in reference to Deputy County Counsel Irv Grant, who serves as legal counsel to the county Water Resources Agency.
Six months later, when RMC principal and founder Lyndel Melton raised some questions about the expanding scope of Collins' work, county attorneys got involved. In his civil case against the county, which was thrown out last month, Collins said he relied upon legal advice from outside county attorneys at Downey Brand, a firm based in Sacramento.
In a June 3 email titled "URGENT: Gov Code 1090 issue - MCWRA," Downey Brand lawyer Dan Carroll O'Brien wrote, “[Outside counsel to Marina Coast] Mark Fogelman just called to report a call he had with Lloyd Lowrey.
"Due to some unrelated work, Lloyd began to wonder Steve Collins might dace any GC 1090 [conflict of interest] issues as a witness or otherwise. I know Steve is a consultant to various ag interests…But I don’t see any financial interest for him in the regional desalination project. Still, Lloyd raised it so I pass it along. Maybe one of you who are both more knowledgeable than I by far on GC 1090 could talk to Lloyd about this.”
What followed was a scramble by attorneys to turn around a legal opinion the next day, which they delivered by conference call to Collins and former MCWRA General Manager Curtis Weeks.
The Downey Brand lawyers told DA investigators that on the day of the conference call, they learned of the RMC deal; they say they advised Collins to hire his own attorney.
Downey Brand attorney Kevin O'Brien's handwritten notes from the June 4 conference call were projected on a screen in the courtroom, along with copies of the emails.
"Also works as [unintelligible]-RMC (!) Disclose? **No** Recuse? **No** SC [Steve Collins]: is this prob? Told him to get indep couns. to advise SC: “Nothing to hide.”
Collins' defense attorney, Michael Lawrence of Lawrence & Peck, is also trying to portray Collins as having been entrapped by county officials and attorneys into accepting and keeping the RMC contract. Lawrence said Collins offered to resign back in January of 2010, and Weeks insisted he stay on in his capacity as a board member of MCWRA.
More later after the courtroom reconvenes. Follow live updates on www.twitter.com/sarahayleyrubin.>