By Joe Nelson, Staff Writer
Posted: 03/24/2012 03:02:29 PM PDT

San Bernardino County sued former Assistant Assessor Jim Erwin in May 2009 in hopes of recovering hundreds of thousands of dollars in a corruption case alleging malfeasance in the Assessor’s Office.

In the end, it was Erwin who wound up getting paid.

The county agreed Jan. 26 to settle Erwin’s countersuit, filed shortly after Erwin was served with the county’s lawsuit, for $30,000.

Erwin alleged the county violated its 2007 separation agreement with him when he resigned from his post as assistant assessor. The county agreed to pay the trustee in Erwin’s Chapter 7 bankruptcy case $30,000 – more than $18,000 of which went to Erwin, who claimed the maximum exemption under the bankruptcy code.

The settlement was entered in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Riverside on Feb. 21.

“It seems clear that the county was being malicious in their false accusations against Mr. Erwin and were being vindictive,” said Alan Mohill, Erwin’s attorney. “And they tried to coordinate their damages so as to ruin Mr. Erwin’s reputation. It seems … they did not want the matter to be heard in court, otherwise they wouldn’t have settled the matter.”

County spokesman David Wert said the county would have liked to have proceeded with its lawsuit against Erwin but that Erwin got out of it by filing for bankruptcy.

“The county opted not to pursue its claims against Mr. Erwin because he declared personal bankruptcy, Wert said. “The county is confident
that it would have prevailed on Mr. Erwin’s baseless claim for breach of contract if the matter had gone to court.

“The county concluded it was a better use of resources to reach a settlement with the bankruptcy trustee than to incur the expense of litigating the matter through trial against a bankrupt opponent.”

Upon his departure, Erwin signed a settlement agreement with the county, which included a clause in which both parties agreed not to sue one another and avoid any further controversy regarding the Assessor’s Office.

P.J. Zimmerman, the trustee in Erwin’s bankruptcy case, initially agreed to settle with the county for $20,000, but on condition that the county turn over a Rolex watch seized by district attorney’s investigators during a search of Erwin’s home. She appraised the value of the watch at $10,000. That, along with the $20,000, would allow her to give $12,000 to creditors and the $18,000 Erwin claimed as an exemption.

When the judge refused to produce the Rolex because it is considered evidence in a separate county corruption case, Zimmerman ripped up the initial $20,000 settlement agreement in court. Without the Rolex, Zimmerman said she would only have $2,000 to give to creditors, Wert said.

The county then agreed to settle for $30,000.

In a lurid report released in May 2009 after a four-month investigation, attorney John Hueston determined that former Assessor Bill Postmus exploited his office as county assessor to enrich himself, his friends and political allies and to create a political operation at taxpayer expense.

Erwin, who never was charged in the Assessor’s Office case, testified before the county Grand Jury four times during its investigation, carried out separately from the District Attorney’s Office.

He said he resigned as assistant assessor of operations, a position given him by then Postmus in November 2007, because of what he was observing on a continual basis at the office.

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