By Shea Johnson, Staff Writer
Posted: Dec 20, 2017 at 12:35 PM
Updated: Dec 20, 2017 at 2:10 PM
Claim rejections will set the stage for civil lawsuits to be filed in federal court, sure to embroil the county in costly litigation proceedings.
A $102 million land use settlement set off a drawn-out criminal probe, sparking the biggest public corruption scandal in this county’s history. But after jurors returned not guilty verdicts in late summer, the fallout has continued.
Three claims in connection to the acquittals filed against San Bernardino County seek collectively more than $100 million.
The latest was filed Monday by Mark Kirk, a one-time top aide for a former county supervisor, who was accused of involvement in what state and county prosecutors had described as political abuse of power to secure the settlement from the county in 2006 on behalf of development firm Colonies Partners.
Kirk, who was acquitted Aug. 28 on charges of conflict of interest and improper influence of an official, is seeking $35 million for malicious prosecution, false arrest and imprisonment, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress, among other claims.
“The reason the claim was filed is because the county fired Mark Kirk due to the Colonies case. He should have never been fired and he should have never been charged,” Kirk’s attorney, Pete Scalisi, said by phone Wednesday. “He lost his job, many years of increasing salary and benefits and insurance, and retirement benefits. And the Colonies case put him and his family through hell. And he’s only seeking fair compensation for everything that he lost including his good name and reputation.”
Kirk, whose not guilty verdicts were the last to be read on a day when two others were also acquitted, said Wednesday his claim was about holding accountable the county and state, who jointly prosecuted the case.
“It’s illegal, it’s wrong and we feel like, aside from our own personal losses,” Kirk said, “we have an obligation to stand up and call it out.”
Read the claims
His claim follows a Nov. 1 filing by Jim Erwin, a former county assistant assessor whose case — tried separately from that of Kirk and two others — ended in a mistrial that District Attorney Mike Ramos said would not be re-tried. Erwin seeks $25 million on a basis that resembles Kirk’s filing.
Colonies sued the county in 2002 and accused it of taking 67 acres of developer land for flood control easements on a 434-acre housing and commercial project in Upland.
Developer Jeff Burum had been accused of later paying $400,000 in bribes to sham political action committees controlled by the former county officials and former Supervisor Bill Postmus, who eventually entered a plea bargain, in order to obtain the settlement.
Five years after the $102 million deal, a grand jury returned a 29-count indictment in 2011, positioned at the time by prosecutors as a bulwark of sorts against corruption in the county and statewide.
The acquittals were called “a resounding but utterly predictable defeat for the District Attorney of San Bernardino” by Burum’s attorney, Stephen Larson, who criticized the prosecution’s reliance on witnesses who lied in court.
Chris Lee, spokesman for the District Attorney, said it would be inappropriate to comment on a pending matter when asked to answer to the stinging rebukes contained within the claims.
The office had previously hinted at frustrations with being excoriated during then-ongoing criminal proceedings.
“Although it is difficult to refrain from responding to the frivolous attacks being reported in the newspaper, along with the unfounded comments about this case being politically motivated,” the office said, “our ethical duties as prosecutors prevent us from trying the case in the media.”
It was unclear whether Burum, who was acquitted of four bribery-related charges, and former Supervisor Paul Biane, who was acquitted of three counts of bribery- and conflict of interest-related charges, would also be filing similar claims.
Last week, Colonies filed a $45 million claim alleging that the county and its flood control district violated the terms of the land use settlement by failing to defend and indemnify the development firm.
But county spokesman David Wert said the county legal counsel’s initial reaction was that neither the Colonies nor the flood control district intended for the indemnity clause to cover criminal defense costs for bribery-related charges.
Together, the three claims equal $105 million.
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