10:19 PM PDT on Friday, July 29, 2011

By DUG BEGLEY
The Press-Enterprise

Special Section: San Bernardino Co. Probe

SAN DIEGO – A public corruption case in San Bernardino County is becoming increasingly intertwined with a related lawsuit, and some lawyers in the civil case accused the county counsel’s office of cooperating with one of the felony defendants.

A lawyer representing the county said the allegations of collaboration are unfounded.

At the center of both proceedings is the county’s $102 million legal settlement in 2006 with developer Colonies Partners.

The deal ended a lengthy battle over flood-control improvements on the company’s Upland development.

Prosecutors contend the settlement was reached through a conspiracy involving bribery and extortion, and a grand jury returned a 29-count indictment against Jeff Burum, Colonies’ co-managing partner, and three former county officials.

Meanwhile, the county continues to pursue a civil case against San Bernardino Associated Governments, Caltrans and Upland in an effort to recoup a portion of the $102 million settlement. The county says those agencies share responsibility because of the construction of Highway 210.

Lawyers for SANBAG, Caltrans and Upland want the civil case delayed until the criminal trial is over.

In court Friday, a SANBAG lawyer and an assistant attorney general said the fact that one of Burum’s lawyers and the county counsel’s office shared information raised red flags.

John Vandevelde, one of Burum’s lawyers, contacted the county counsel’s office last fall to coordinate information regarding Colonies’ dispute with the county over the Upland flood-control easement and Burum’s planned deposition in the civil case.

Assistant Attorney General Melissa Mandel, a prosecutor in the criminal case, said she is worried about the potential for the civil trial to help Burum’s defense.

The county’s opposition to delaying the civil trial and the county counsel’s contact with Burum’s lawyers is “baffling,” given that county attorneys also are cooperating with prosecutors in the criminal case. “It is strange to say the least,” she said.

In the civil lawsuit, the county counsel’s office has argued the settlement was reasonable, given the county’s liability for a 67-acre flood-control basin at the heart of the legal battle with Colonies Partners.

Burum plans to use a similar argument in his defense, according to court documents.

Mandel said she is concerned that information revealed in the civil case could be used in Burum’s defense in the criminal proceedings.

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