11:22 PM PDT on Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Press-Enterprise

San Bernardino City Attorney Jim Penman will have to effectively borrow money from his department’s next year budget to plug a $410,000 shortage this year.

Following nearly a month of negotiations between city officials, the City Council has approved a plan that will pay for outside attorneys to defend San Bernardino in 35 pending legal cases.

In a recent report to the council, City Manager Charles McNeely said the city attorney’s office has seen a 34 percent increase in lawsuits filed against San Bernardino that it must defend. Penman said the 10 attorneys in his office are handling 98 of the 113 pending cases.

Not hiring outside attorneys to help runs the risk of costly court judgments against the city, Penman has argued.

“We cannot predict how many lawsuits will be filed in any given year,” Penman said, contending that his office is handling more cases than either Riverside County or the city of Reno, Nev., which as roughly the same population as San Bernardino.

San Bernardino Finance Director Barbara Pachon told council members they do not have the authority to make line-item adjustments to the elected city attorney’s budget.

She said Penman’s office had originally requested more than $900,000 in the fiscal year that ends June 30 to pay for outside attorneys. That is about $120,000 more than it had spent on average over the past four years.

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