Developer Jeff Burum, left, speaks with his attorney Stephen Larson in a hallway at the San Bernardino Superior Court. File photo. (Micah Escamilla/San Bernardino Sun)

By Richard K. De Atley, The Press-Enterprise
Posted: 04/06/17 – 2:06 PM PDT |

SAN BERNARDINO >> A veteran San Bernardino County attorney who had opposed the $102 million settlement with Colonies Partners LP in 2006 told a defense attorney Thursday in court that he had changed his mind by 2009 and thought it was “objectively reasonable.”

That is because the county, according to Colonies’ figures, was looking at $300 million in potential damages had the county opted to continue fighting the Rancho Cucamonga developer in court and lost.

Therefore, settling for just over one-third of that amount was objectively reasonable, Deputy County Counsel Mitch Norton said.

The county also faced, within days, finalization of a judge’s tentative opinion in a Colonies lawsuit that was so bad for the county that Norton described it as “Armageddon,” defense attorney Stephen G. Larson noted.

In afternoon testimony, Norton insisted his use of the term “poison pills” in a November 2006 email did not mean he was trying to “sabotage” an effort to settle the case.

Larson challenged him: “You were going to do everything you could to make sure that settlement agreement did not get approved.”

Defense attorneys began their cross examination of Norton Thursday in the public corruption case in which three former top county officials and a Rancho Cucamonga developer stand accused of conspiring to facilitate the Nov. 28, 2006 settlement in exchange for $100,000 bribes.

Prosecutors had asked about Norton’s stance on the settlement in 2006, when he opposed, but Norton’s answers to Larson in Judge Michael A. Smith’s courtroom was the first time jurors heard that he later changed his mind.

The settlement ended a nearly five-year legal battle over flood control improvements at Colonies Partners 434-acre residential and commercial development in Upland, Colonies at San Antonio and Colonies Crossroads, respectively.

Defendants include Rancho Cucamonga developer Jeff Burum, former county Assistant Assessor Jim Erwin, former county Supervisor Paul Biane, and Mark Kirk, the chief of staff for former Supervisor Gary Ovitt.

All the defendants have denied any wrongdoing, saying the contributions were public donations to legal political action committees as part of the Colonies’ attempts to mend fences after the contentious legal dispute and were online for the public to view.

Larson, who is representing Burum, asked Norton about an email exchange on Nov. 1, 2006, with Paul Watford, then an attorney with Munger, Tolles & Olson, about a Colonies mediation session to be held later that day.

Munger, Tolles & Olson had stopped representing the county in the Colonies case about a year earlier, Larson noted.

“I’ll call in the next day or so and give you the post-mortem,” Norton wrote to Watford of the pending meeting. “We’ve taken their draft agreement generated after the (Oct. 19, 2006) session and added a panoply of what I like to call poison pills.”

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