Jim Penman

City Attorney Jim Penman
Posted: 09/03/2011 08:27:59 PM PDT

I agree with the recent Sun editorial: Upcoming elections should not degenerate into personal attacks. It is true, some politicians, while focused on private vendettas instead of the city’s best interests, have allowed political agendas to put substantial taxpayer dollars at significant risk.

By deliberately under-funding the City Attorney’s Office in this year’s budget, the council majority is undermining San Bernardino’s ability to defend itself in a number of financially critical lawsuits, endangering millions in public funds.

From 2006 to 2009, private attorneys hired by the mayor and council – not the city attorney – cost the taxpayers an average of $527,525 annually. Last year that amount skyrocketed to $1,008,149. This was the result of a 60 percent increase in lawsuits since 2009. These additional lawsuits have resulted in a 70 percent increase in the number of pending cases being handled in-house by deputy city attorneys. There has been no increase in the number of employees in our office during that period of time; in fact we eliminated one full-time position last year.

However, despite this drastic lawsuit increase, the council recently demanded large reductions from the city’s legal budget, claiming there were two options: lay off in-house litigators, whose highest compensation including benefits is $70.38 per hour, take some or all of the 84 lawsuits they are currently defending in-house and farm them out to private attorneys (despite
the least expensive private attorney charging us $148 per hour); or cut the budget for the private attorneys hired by the City Council, have them sue us and let the city default on 44 lawsuits. Obviously, neither alternative was realistic.

This year, the council only allocated less than one-tenth ($81,000) of what it cost last fiscal year, to defend lawsuits and pay outside attorneys ($1,008,149) that the council hired on the recommendation of the city attorney. On Aug. 1, the council majority cut another $197,000 from the city’s legal budget.

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