bad legal advice

Michael Kane
November 12, 2009

RUTH STRINGER: Counselor from Hell

Who or what is “evil” or “venal” is obviously a matter of personal opinion. So let’s look at the dictionary definitions and set a yardstick to measure some of our more important appointed public officials:

EVIL. (Defined): morally wrong or bad; immoral due to actual or imputed bad conduct or character; the wicked or immoral part of someone or something; anything causing injury or harm.

VENAL. (Defined): willing to sell one’s influence; bribable, corruptible.

Now let’s look at some of those high-level County officials and see how they measure up to the challenge to demonstrate integrity, act honestly, perform competently and truly serve the public interest to the exclusion of their own.

Here is the next in a series of opinion pieces about officials of the Uffer legacy.

First up is County Counsel Ruth Stringer.

Ms. Stringer has been with the County Counsel’s office for many, many, many, years. We know this because it has been reported that during her county service she has racked up almost $500,000 in vacation and other leave time on the books. So either she never takes a vacation, or she just never bothers to deduct her vacation time from her leave account! After this “time card” scam was uncovered several months ago (right here on iePolitics), County Counsel Ruth Stringer ruled that the practice was completely legal under the county rules. We common folk should all be so lucky that we can be the judge of our own level of propriety should we ever be accused of wrongdoing. Does this legal interpretation sound kind of self-serving coming from the county’s chief lawyer?

But then again it does seem consistent with Stringer’s other infamous “legal” opinions.

Stringer’s co workers characterize her long county service as being a mediocre-to-below average lawyer, giving questionable or bad advice throughout the years to a variety of unfortunate county departments. She has no courtroom experience, preferring the dark, dank secretive halls of the bowels of county government. One fifth floor staffer refers to her as “unflattering towards others”, apparently referring to her vindictive, mean-spirited, sneaky nature. Unlike most people who get ahead through competence, hard work and the respect of others, co-workers opine that Ruth’s ascent came from “clawing her way to the top by conniving and back-stabbing her colleagues.” In actual fact, Ruth was not the first choice of the Board of Supervisors to be County Counsel when Ron Reitz suddenly retired. The Board actually wanted to appoint Rex Hinesley as County Counsel, but Mr. Hinsely refused to postpone his overseas vacation to take the job so they reluctantly gave it to Stringer. Sources on the Fifth floor say most folks there regret the decision. DUH!

Stringer’s reputation as a lawyer, shall we say, “leaves a lot to be desired.” The county’s top attorney should be well-respected, both within county government and the outside legal community as well. Stringer, however, according to insiders is viewed within the Taj Mahal as a mediocre lawyer and would-be political interloper willing to do or say anything to please her political masters.

When you consider the quality of her so-called legal advice you can see why Ruth is considered the laughingstock of the Fifth floor.

Remember when the newspapers demanded to know the credit card activity for Supervisors taking people to lunch? Ruth decided that the identity of who the Board members wined and dined at taxpayer expense was secret because it was part of a “deliberative process”. So I guess the taxpayers can afford to pay for meals for their public officials to conduct “official” county business, but under the Stringer Rule the taxpayers just can’t learn who their elected officials are doing business with! Taxpayers just need to take Stringer’s word that it was all legitimate business! Ruth Stringer: Open Government, my style.

Likewise, when the news media tried to obtain the room service bills for a certain elected official who likes to camp out at the Sacramento Hyatt, Stringer refused to turn over the room service receipts based on her astute legal analysis that “deliberative process” was obviously taking place.

Hmmmm. Now exactly how much “deliberating” about county policy do you think goes on holed up in a hotel room late at night?

Then we have the unsavory situation referred to in Mr. Erwin’s recusal motion where Ruth herself was the object of, shall we politely say, “Amorous attention” by our District Attorney. Doesn’t that little escapade make Ruth either a witness or victim in that affair? Seems to this non-lawyer that she will have a real conflict of interest when the Ramos Human Resources investigation report eventually comes before the Board, assuming she hasn’t been let go before then. How can she render any legitimate legal advice (assuming she knows any) under THOSE circumstances? How can you be the Board’s lawyer and a witness in the same issue at the same time?

Inquiring minds, no doubt including the watchdogs at the State Bar, will be watching, Ruth!

Like Mark Uffer, Ruth isn’t really satisfied with just trying to do her job. She fashions herself a real-life Fifth Floor politico, so she spends quite a bit of time engaging in political intrigue, plotting against one member of the Board or another, always trying to gain an advantage at someone else’s expense…usually one of her bosses!

I thought her job was to be the lawyer for all of the Board members?

It’s kinda hard to be their trusted legal advisor when you’re busy trying to tube them. Like Uffer, such a despicable character trait will eventually do her in. At some point even elected politicians get tired of their professional staff trying to sabotage them. Not to speak of how dysfunctional it makes the Fifth Floor workplace at the Government Center when you can’t even trust your own counsel.

Sources on the Fifth Floor confirm that the Board has little confidence in Stringer, not only because she comes across as barely competent as their lawyer but because she can’t seem to maintain any sense of confidentiality. Her big mouth results in Board of Supervisors confidential information being spread all over the County. Did she not think the Board would figure out who has the loose lips?

Hey, Ruth, do ya know what happens when your bosses lose confidence in you and you happen to serve at their pleasure? That’s right, the gravy train ends.

The Stringer legacy seems to repeatedly follow this pattern: give bad advice to the Supervisors; county gets sued; Ruth hires outside counsel at huge annual taxpayer expense to defend the lawsuits; county pays judgments.

But Ruth doesn’t have to worry…she has $500,000 in her vacation account!

So let’s add it all up.

Declares her own private vacation funding scheme as OK; provides bad and arguably intellectually dishonest legal advice to protect errant officeholders; is a witness to potential wrongdoing and has a probable personal conflict of interest, but will probably improperly interject herself into the controversy anyway; and, her bosses have little trust or confidence in her.

Does this candidate meet the definitions for evil or venal?

You be the judge.

The Board didn’t want her as Counsel in the first place. So why do they keep her?

They should remedy this insufferable situation and get a real county counsel who is competent, respected, honest, ethical and who actually wants to serve the public. Does Ruth Stringer seem to meet those standards?

This writer votes NO.

As soon as Mr. Uffer gets his walking papers the Board should rid the county of this piece of work. We will all be better off for it.

As the saying goes “every dog has his day.”

Ruth, your day is coming soon!