Friday, May 4, 2012

(Stanislaus County) Smith: No grand jury appeals

by Nick Rappley - Patterson Irrigator - Councilwoman Annette Smith announced at the regular council meeting Tuesday, May 1, that she would not pursue any further legal action against Stanislaus County or its civil grand jury. “Although the county has acknowledged my right to take further legal action against them, I am not going to do so, because in the end, only the lawyers win, and it distracts from all the other important issues we face in these challenging economic times,” Smith said in a prepared statement near the end of the meeting. U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill ruled April 11 to dismiss a civil rights lawsuit that Smith filed against Stanislaus County in an attempt to revise the findings of a grand jury report that called for Smith’s dismissal. O’Neill’s nine-page ruling left no room for an amendment, which means Smith could only appeal to a higher court or take it to the state court system. Smith argued that the grand jury was an entity of the county, while O’Neill said the county was not liable, because the grand jury was an arm of the Stanislaus County Superior Court, which is affiliated with a state agency. Stanislaus County Counsel Jack Doering said last week that the county’s legal representative in the matter, Sacramento-based Porter Scott, sent a letter to Smith, her lawyer and the city of Patterson offering to give up any attempts to recoup attorney fees incurred because of the lawsuit if Smith would drop the suit and promise not to appeal. At the time, Doering called the suit a waste of taxpayer money. The grand jury’s report released in late June recommended that Smith resign or be recalled. It stated she failed to recuse herself from a vote regarding developer John Ramos’ legal fees while she had a financial relationship with him. It also stated that Ramos had written off expenses for Smith in the past. In addition, it criticized Smith for allegedly confronting a resident in a supermarket parking lot and using abusive language. The report stated further that she pressured city staff members to fire former Community Development Director Rod Simpson. The report also called for former Mayor Becky Campo to pay back money she received as mayor, because she allegedly lived outside city limits, and stated that the city should file a complaint with the California State Bar to chastise former City Attorney George Logan for alleged improprieties, such as failing to be in the room when the council voted to reimburse Ramos for $27,000 in legal fees. The grand jury called for Ramos to return that money to the city, as well. During her statement Tuesday night, Smith pulled no punches in expressing her disdain for the grand jury and its practices. “I firmly stand by my position that something has to be done when a group of people with no specialized training, but empowered by the government, can attack and malign your character with unregulated power based on unsubstantiated or erroneous evidence,” she read from her statement. On a related note, the California Fair Political Practices Commission sent a letter dated April 18 indicating that it had rejected a complaint filed by community activist Jeff Lustgarten in response to Smith’s participation in votes related to her legal fees. The commission enforces the provisions of the Political Reform Act, a state law that governs ethics of elected officials and their staffs in state and local government. Smith said at a special council meeting last week that the political squabbling in Patterson was out of hand and needed to stop.

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