Last spring the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors embarked on a “score some political points” statement. One that would make them look like corruption fighters.
County supervisors were going to show residents accountability was at hand. The board voted 5-0 to initiate litigation against Former Assessor Bill Postmus and his staff to recover taxpayer funds related to time card fraud. The support for filing the lawsuit was the county’s success at recovering from individuals and businesses related to misconduct in the late 1990’s.
What supervisors received for their vote this time can best be described as a “legal boondoggle”.
The big difference between then and now? Deep-pocketed business defendants then, which is not the case now. The county recovered significant sums with the help of attorney Leonard Gumport.
This time around, the board of supervisors had already hired Attorney John Hueston of the law firm of Irell and Manella to investigate the Assessor’s conduct and operation in order to force the resignation of Postmus.
However, supervisors were convinced to not only complete the investigation, but file a lawsuit.
The county had already spent nearly $250,000 on the investigation. Ultimately, county supervisors authorized an additional $250,000 to handle the litigation.
Here we are today almost one year later. The litigation costs have escalated well past the approved $500,000 to nearly $700,000 without board of supervisors approval.
County supervisors have been asking county counsel Ruth Stringer how this could have happened.
Stringer in turn has been begging the supervisors for the extra $200,000.
Stringer will get her money this week.
It is unknown how many billable hours have been spent by internal county legal staff on the matter. There is a cost there as well.
Clearly, Hueston was of the belief he was operating with a blank check and Stringer was letting him do it.
The board does have to approve more funds. Hueston has to be paid. It’s not his fault. The whole mess falls on Stringer.
Here are some questions that need to be asked.
1.) How did litigation costs expand to a point that the county can’t even recover what it has spent, let alone anything extra?
2.) How often does this type of unchecked spending occur?
3.) Didn’t the county consider the fact they would never make any meaningful recovery from the targeted defendants?
4.) The county was barred by agreement from pursuing one defendant but did it anyway. Why?
5. ) Apparently, county supervisors never considered they and their staffs would be subpoenaed for depositions over the same type of conduct being alleged against the defendants. What were they thinking?
6.) The county is facing a likely deficit of more than $100 million in its next fiscal year requiring employee cutbacks and concessions. How do the supervisors justify flushing valuable dollars down the toilet?
7.) How much in billable hours has been expended by internal county attorneys?
This major misstep rests entirely on the laps of all five supervisors.
After all their job is to supervise. Isn’t it?
But then again, it’s not their money either.