11:32 PM PDT on Wednesday, March 24, 2010

By IMRAN GHORI
The Press-Enterprise

Two San Bernardino County supervisors who have been linked to a corruption investigation into the 2006 Colonies Partners settlement announced Wednesday that they would not take part in discussions of whether to share legal information with prosecutors.

Meanwhile, the state attorney general and San Bernardino County district attorney continued to pressure the county to waive its attorney-client privilege in the case, welcoming an offer from the county to meet to discuss the request.

Although supervisors made no decision in a closed session Tuesday whether to release the legal documents, they directed County Counsel Ruth Stringer to meet with prosecutors.

On Wednesday, Senior Assistant Attorney General Gary Schons sent a letter to the county suggesting a meeting on Monday. Stringer could not be reached for comment late Wednesday, after the letter was released.

Prosecutors said they need access to legal documents as part of an investigation into whether the $102 million settlement with the Rancho Cucamonga developer was part of an illegal conspiracy.

Board Chairman Gary Ovitt and Supervisor Paul Biane will not be taking part in deciding whether to waive legal privilege in the case. Both were part of the closed session but on Wednesday released separate statements saying they would recuse themselves.

Last month, prosecutors filed bribery, extortion and conspiracy charges against Bill Postmus, the former assessor and supervisor, and Jim Erwin, former assistant assessor and former chief of staff to Supervisor Neil Derry.

The criminal complaint also listed five unindicted co-conspirators that were part of the conspiracy including a current supervisor and a chief of staff to a supervisor. Biane and Mark Kirk, chief of staff to Ovitt, appear to be two of those John Does, based on public records and statements.

Biane and Ovitt voted for the settlement along with Postmus.

‘SERIOUS MATTER’

In a statement Tuesday, county officials said they wanted to work with prosecutors but were constrained by their agreement with Colonies and how waiving that privilege may affect ongoing litigation.

“It’s a serious matter,” Stringer said. “All the implications need to be studied seriously.”

Information discussed during settlement talks is protected by a mediation agreement, which Colonies informed the county last week it was not willing to waive, according to the county.

In his letter, Schons disputed that assertion, saying that protection does not apply to criminal matters.

“It is evident that Colonies has little interest in all the facts coming to light,” he said.

However, he stated that prosecutors will set aside the request for a waiver on the mediation privilege.

A representative for Colonies could not be reached for comment.

The company has previously defended the settlement as a fair and legal compromise.

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Assistant District Attorney James Hackleman said the mediation privilege only protects the discussions between both sides that led to the settlement and not the majority of the county’s legal fight with Colonies.

Prosecutors still seek a waiver that would allow access to information prepared by the county counsel and outside attorneys as part of the four-year legal battle and for those attorneys to speak freely about the case, Hackleman said.

In his statement, Biane reiterated that he did “absolutely nothing wrong or unethical” but would voluntarily recuse himself in the interest of “putting San Bernardino County and its taxpayers’ interests first.”

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