Appeals Court Sides With Citizens Group; Beaumont Managers Fail To Silence Critics
The Website the City Tried to Take Down
(Riverside) A California Appellate Court last week dismissed once and for all the appeal of City of Beaumont consulting firm Urban Logic Consultants (ULC) in favor of a citizens group, finally putting an end to the lawsuit originally filed by Urban Logic Consultants against Beaumont Citizens for Responsible Growth (BCRG).
Members of the Board of Directors of the non-profit group Beaumont Citizens for Responsible Growth were served on Thanksgiving Day 2010 with the lawsuit brought against them by Urban Logic Consultants, a private company that provides Planning, Public Works and Economic Development services to the City of Beaumont.
At issue was a website sponsored by BCRG in which the group voices its concerns about the contracting practices of the City. On its site, www.BeaumontGate.org, the group accuses the City of a long history of favoritism in the awarding of public contracts, and claims that ULC’s contract creates a conflict of interest because the company is paid a percentage of the bid amount of approved projects. The lawsuit filed by ULC against BCRG claimed that the accusations in the website are false and have damaged the company’s reputation.
On February 15th, 2011, the Riverside County Superior Court sided strongly with BCRG, throwing out the lawsuit and confirming that the accusations made on www.BeaumontGate.org did not constitute defamation. BCRG’s motion, which was upheld by the Court, confirmed that the accusations made on www.BeaumontGate.org are not false, not defamatory, and are well-founded on public record. In addition, the Court firmly rejected Urban Logic’s claims that BCRG members acted out of malice.
It took Superior Court Commissioner Paulette Durand-Barkley only ten minutes to render the decision in favor of BCRG. As a result of the ruling Urban Logic was ordered to pay attorney fees and court costs incurred by BCRG.
Urban Logic Consultants, in a continued attempt to bring down the website through lengthy and expensive litigation, filed an appeal with the State of California Court of Appeal on March 23rd, 2011.
On October 19, 2011, as a result of a failure on the part of Urban Logic to file Court documents in a timely manner, the Appeals Court dismissed the case. At this point it appeared that the case was finally over. However, on November 9th, 2011, in an unusual move by the Court, the appeal was reinstated at the request of Urban Logic’s attorney, who claimed that he had made a mistake in not filing on time.
After numerous delays caused by Urban Logic, on May 23rd, 2012 the Appeals Court issued a tentative ruling in favor of BCRG.
However, in an attempt to further intimidate BCRG and to draw out an expensive legal process, on May 25th, 2012 Urban Logic requested an opportunity to give an oral argument against the Appeals Court’s tentative ruling. Their request was granted, and oral arguments were scheduled for August 8th, 2012. In yet another delay tactic, Urban Logic requested an extension, and oral arguments were pushed back until October 3rd, 2012.
During oral arguments Urban Logic was unable to justify their malicious prosecution against the group of concerned citizens. On Monday, November 5th, 2012, the Appeals Court ruled once and for all in favor of BCRG and against Urban Logic. The principals of Urban Logic (Deepak Moorjani, Ernest Egger, and David Dillon), who serve as the City of Beaumont’s managers, have failed in their attempt to intimidate and silence citizens who dare to question how public funds are being spent at City Hall.
Beaumont Councilwoman Nancy Gall expressed optimism that things might change at City Hall in the wake of this ruling. “I’m happy that the Court has affirmed the rights of citizens to speak out and ask the government for a redress of grievances. I know that the information on BeaumontGate is true and that this lawsuit has been a terrible waste of time, money, and emotions.”
BCRG President Judy Bingham was also hopeful that the ruling might lead to change at City Hall. “This malicious prosecution was just another example of harassment by Beaumont city officials…twenty years of complacency makes them believe they are above the law. This attitude lets them believe they can skirt the California Public Contract Code by consistently awarding lucrative public contracts to the same small group of favored companies. This attitude that causes elected officials and staff to publicly lash out and insult citizens who question City practices or policies. The same attitude that allowed the City’s top independent contractors (who have served as the City’s Planning Director, Economic Development Director, and Public Works Director) to file a lawsuit in an attempt to silence a non-profit group comprised of concerned citizens who aren’t afraid to question their city leaders.”
Mrs. Bingham went on to say, “Such blatant disregard for the law should not be tolerated by the citizens of Beaumont. It is time for a change of attitude at City Hall…and it should start with a new City Council and a City Manager that will not tolerate City employees that would force a nonprofit citizens group ( BCRG) to defend itself against such a distasteful and irresponsible lawsuit in an attempt to violate their First Amendment Rights. What are they trying to hide? Why don’t they invite questioning by citizens?”
Through their website (www.BeaumontGate.org), and through successfully defending themselves against a desperate and mean spirited lawsuit, BCRG has brought to light that Urban Logic and City Manager Alan Kapanicas have blatantly violated Government Code Section 1090, which bans any public official — or a public agency consultant or independent contractor whose official capacities carry the potential to exert influence over a public agency’s contracting decisions – from having any direct or even indirect personal interests in the agency’s contracts.
Former Riverside County District Attorney Grover Trask, in an article appearing in PublicCEO.com in September, does a good job explaining Section 1090 and the “dire consequences” for violating the Code:
Section 1090 can be traced back to the historical self-dealing admonition that “No man may serve two masters” and the state’s first conflict of interest law established in 1851. The basic prohibition has remained unchanged banning a public official from being financially interested in a contract in both the official’s public and private capacities. The goal is to prevent public officials from exploiting their positions for their personal benefit. Eliminating temptation for public officials, avoiding the perception of impropriety and obtaining their undivided loyalty are the underlying public policy goals served by this important statute.
Violations of Government Code Section 1090 can lead to serious civil and criminal consequences. All that is required for a violation is that the public official acting in his or her official capacity knowingly made or caused to be made a contract in which he or she had a financial interest. Even if the contract is fair and in the best interest of the public agency it is void. Willful violation of Section 1090 may be punished as a felony.
The article can be found in its entirety at: http://www.publicceo.com/2012/09/ethics-in-california-section-1090-the-lesser-known-law-with-dire-consequences/.