Adelanto Hemorrhaging Red Ink In Payments To Lawyers

The City of Adelanto is being eaten alive by attorney fees it is paying out to defend itself against lawsuits brought against it by both former and current employees.
In the last payment register ratified by the city council  – that is payments made over a two week period this month –  $135,547.04 in checks were cut to lawyers.
That is merely the latest of the city’s outlays in this regard, as the city has been plagued with a glut of lawsuits since about midway in the administration of the immediate former mayor, Richard Kerr. And there is little prospect those steep payments will end anytime soon.
Following the election of 2014, in which Mayor Kerr and councilmen John Woodard and Charley Glasper were elected in a clean sweep that saw then-Mayor Kari Thomas and then-councilmen Steve Baisden and Charles Valvo ousted, Kerr and Woodard joined forces with Councilman Jermaine Wright in an initial effort to permit the indoor cultivation of medical marijuana to take place in the city’s industrial zone. Their stated rationale was that the city, which was in extremely poor financial shape, could rejuvenate itself economically by such a move. That represented a deviation from past policy, which matched that of nearly all of the municipalities in San Bernardino County, which was to resist any involvement with the commercial availability of cannabis or cannabis products, even though the use of marijuana for medical purposes had been legal in California in the aftermath of the 1996 passage of Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use of Marijuana Act. While some city employees were philosophically and ideologically opposed to the direction Kerr, Woodard and Wright were purposed to take the city in, some or even most were willing to support their agenda, insofar as they were assured the city was working within the parameters of the law. Over time, however, evidence emerged that Wright, Woodard and Kerr were involved in helping applicants for the cultivation businesses cut corners with regard to the permitting, licensing, inspection, operations and standards for those businesses. It also became evident that those business proponents were providing inducements to the trio in return for their efforts to prevent city staff from applying straightforward planning, land use and regulatory requirements to those proposals and businesses. In time, Kerr, Woodard and Wright dropped all pretense of being interested only in seeing cultivation enterprises flourish and they pushed ahead with allowing, first, medical marijuana dispensaries to be able set up shop in the city and then, even before the passage of 2016’s Proposition 64, allowing the city to move to the forefront of selling marijuana for recreational purposes, that is, allowing the drug to be used not for its medical but rather its intoxicative effect. Thus, some high ranking and mid-level city employees decided to leave or were pushed out from their posts, and they elected to simply move on. These included longtime City Manager Jim Hart, former City Engineer/Public Works Director/interim City Manager Tom Thornton, former City Attorney Todd Litfin, former City Attorney Julia Sylva, former City Attorney Curtis Wright, former City Attorney Ruben Duran, former interim City Manager Brad Letner, and former contract City Engineer Wilson So.
While Kerr, Woodard and Wright were pushing their agenda, some city employees pushed back, refusing to suspend the city’s planning, inspection or enforcement standards when it came to the cannabis-related businesses that Kerr, Woodard and Wright had put such a high priority upon facilitating.
Kerr, Woodard and Wright deemed such resistance to be insubordination, and had several of those employees suspended, fired or suspended and then fired. Even after Jermaine Wright was arrested by the FBI in November 2017 for taking a bribe in exchange for agreeing to prevent an applicant for a marijuana distribution business from being closely monitored and regulated by the city’s code enforcement division, Kerr and Woodard did not desist, pressing staff harder and harder to accommodate those seeking licensing by suspending the regulations and oversight the city was supposed to engage in as part of the approval and licensing processes. This entailed further reprisals against city employees when they continued to resist the mayor’s and councilman’s directions.
Ultimately, Kerr and Woodard were voted out of office as the scandal relating to what was perceived to be their graft-ridden relationships with the cannabis industry became too pronounced for the city’s residents to ignore.
More than a year after Kerr and Woodard left office, the city is still dealing with the unjustifiable termination lawsuits filed by the city employees they had fired.
Of note is that the city has probably spent more money in defending against the lawsuits than it would have shelled out if it had merely settled with those individuals who have taken it to court.
After spending a considerable amount of money in defending itself, the city ultimately settled cases or claims brought by Information Technology Specialist Adam Watkins for $145,000, Information Technology Specialist Ben Pina for $125,000, Jose Figueroa, a laborer in the city’s public works division, for $75,000, Ibrahim Abduld for $55,000 and specialized Code Enforcement Officer Derek Stevens for $30,000. The city in February 2019 agreed to pay the High Desert Mavericks $3.8 million for evicting the team from the city’s stadium, action championed by Kerr.
A report unverified by the Sentinel is that the legal action Watkins and Pina were engaged in grew out of their having been disciplined by the city when they cooperated with the FBI in providing videos of city council meetings to the FBI.
At present, former City Manager/City Clerk Cindy Herrera, former City Manager Gabriel Elliott, former Public Works Superintendent Nan Moore, former Conservation Specialist Belen Cordero, former Senior Planner Mark De Manincor, former information technology division employee Adam Watkins, former Public Safety Manager Steve Peltier, former code enforcement officers Apolonio Gutierrez and Gregory Stephen Watkins, furloughed code enforcement division employee Amber Tisdale and still-employed Code Enforcement Officer Roman Edward De La Torre yet have cases pending against the city.
It appears that the law firm of Jackson Lewis LLC  routinely receives monthly payments averaging between $15,000 and $30,000 to do work relating to the lawsuits brought by De Manincor, Cordero, Moore and Borja.
In 2017, Jackson Lewis was paid $ 78,794.01 by the city. In 2018, Jackson Lewis was paid $180,810.54 by the city. In 2019, Jackson Lewis was paid $217,341.30. So far, in 2020, through April, Jackson Lewis has been paid $154,347.12. Since 2017, Jackson Lewis has been paid $631,292.97.
Nancy Doumanian, who is representing the city with regard to legal actions brought against it by several of its employees and former employees, was paid $15,525.27 in February 2020,  $57,196.37 in March 2020 and $78,040.26 in April 2020 for a total of $150,761.90 so far this year.
The city has paid the law firm of Jarvis, Fay, and Gibson $1,916 in 2020.
The City of Adelanto has also paid the Tous Law Group $72,000 for service relating to workers compensation litigation.
The city paid the law firm of Winston & Strawn $86,516.14 in 2017 and $112,741.50 in 2018.
Adelanto paid the law firm of Ecoff, Campain and Tiles $5,287.81 in 2017;  $74,264.27 in 2018; $12,615.82 in 2019 and $91.87 this year for a total $92,159.77.
Though Rutan & Tucker has not supplied Adelanto with city attorney services in years, the city has has continued to pay the firm relatively nominal fees, including $5,701 in 2017,  $2,348.50 in 2018, $2,587 in 2019 and it has made payments of $760, $760, $885.50 and $616 to it this year.
Last year the city paid the law office of Gregory Dion $7,110.
The city also paid Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services, Inc. $34,580 in 2017 and $50,525 in 2019.
Curiously, after coming to its $3.8 settlement agreement with the High Desert Mavericks, the city has continued to pay Olivarez Madruga Lemieux O’Neill, the firm it used to represent it in the lawsuit against the Mavericks, $71,836.69 in April 2019, $101,536.77 in June 2019, one payment of $71,796.03 in October 2019 and another payment of $77,699.50 in October 2019, $71,087.66 in November 2019, one payment of $48,735.33 in March 2020, a second payment of $76,496.79 in March 2020, a third payment of $58,296 in March 2020, a fourth payment of $34,984.44 in March 2020, a fifth payment of $64,671.81 in March 2020 and $48,735.33 in April 2020.
The city paid the law firm of Lozano Smith LLP $8,448.90 in April 2019, $3,520.94 in June 2019, $675 in October 2019, a second payment of $2,243 in October 2019, a third payment of $2,343 in October 2019, a payment of $6,141.50 in November 2019, and payments of $1,121, $7,472.66, $737.50 and $236 in March 2020.
The city paid MMJ Solutions Investigations Services $4,559.47 in November 2019 and has paid that firm $4,009.65 this year.
The city paid the law firm of Zweiback Fiset & Coleman $6,142.50 in April 2019, $7,675 in June 2019, $282.06 in October 2019 and a second payment of $2,800 in October 2019.
The city paid the law firm of Liebert Cassidy Whitmore $16,008 this and last year.
The city has paid the law firm of Filarsky & Watt $480 in April 2019 and made three other payments to the firm this year of $531.51, $441.18 and $160.
The city paid the investigative firm of Garon Wyatt $8,032.35 in April 2019.
The city also paid the GIC Corp. $4,794.61.
The money being laid out to secure lawyers in the face of the lawsuits is being paid in addition to, and actually in spite of, the monetary settlements the city most assuredly will eventually need to make in many, more likely most and perhaps even all of the cases.
-Mark Gutglueck

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