City Council rejects his charges
Josh Dulaney, Staff Writer
Posted: 08/16/2011 10:23:46 PM PDT

SAN BERNARDINO – City Attorney James F. Penman has accused the City Council of underfunding his office because he is investigating possible corruption on the dais.

Penman at this week’s council meeting lost a lengthy and often-volatile debate over whether to trim $197,000 from his budget this fiscal year to cover outside attorney bills accumulated during fiscal 2010-11, as lawsuits mounted against the city.

The council voted 4-2 to pull the money from Penman’s budget, the move coming just months after the council authorized a $410,000 loan to his office.

First Ward Councilwoman Virginia Marquez said she was confused and bewildered by Penman’s budget.

“There’s a pattern that, again, your office chooses to not control your budget,” Marquez said.

The council considered two options presented by the Finance Department: Taking the money from a reserve fund supplied by administrative civil penalties and not requiring Penman’s office to pay it back out of his $3.5million budget, or pulling the money from that fund and requiring his office to repay it.

A Finance Department review of Penman’s budget suggests he is to blame for his budget woes.

In a February report submitted by City Manager Charles McNeely to the council, the Finance Department said Penman chose to “make his budget cuts in the most critical areas of his operation,” pointing to cuts for outside lawyers and litigation.

The report said the cuts left the budget for outside attorneys and litigation “unrealistic” and kept Penman from being able to “carry his operation through the entire fiscal year.”

But Penman has consistently argued that the council underfunds his office.

“There’s just no way we could handle last year’s lawsuits with the amount of money the council gave us,” Penman told the council.

Penman said his office is receiving daily calls from attorneys who say they are not getting paid.

He said Tuesday his caseload includes 128 active civil cases, up 60percent from January 2009, 48 cases of which have been farmed out to outside attorneys.

Most of those cases are defending the Police Department against unfounded excessive force complaints, Penman said.

His office also is working on more than 1,500 open misdemeanor prosecutions and thousands of prosecutions for infractions, he said.

Other work includes handling contracts, ordinances and legal issues for all city departments, Penman said.

Penman told officials at Monday’s meeting that they were being negligent by taking money from his office. They are doing so, he said, because they want to stop his efforts to investigate corruption in their ranks.

“But if you think that you’re going to cut our budget and force the city attorney to lay off investigators so that you and your colleagues can’t be investigated, I’m sorry, lady and gentlemen, you are sadly mistaken,” Penman said.

Penman has said there are four investigations into possible Political Reform Act violations but won’t identify who is under investigation.

But the council isn’t buying Penman’s argument.

Third Ward Councilman Tobin Brinker said cuts to Penman’s office are no different than cuts that have hit every department in the city.

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