HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif.—The Huntington Beach City Council will consider hiring an outside legal firm on Dec. 21 following disagreements with the city’s elected attorney, who says the move is illegal.
City Attorney Michael Gates said that according to the city’s charter, which is essentially its constitution, it’s illegal for the council to hire outside legal help without the elected city attorney’s direct authorization.
“It’s a blatant violation of the city charter, and it really is an affront to the way our government is set up,” Gates told The Epoch Times. “The people in the city—by adopting the charter and ratifying it lots of times over the years—have said, ‘We want to pick the lawyer for the city’ and thereby deprive city council from choosing its own lawyer.”
The motion—brought forward by Mayor Barbara Delgleize, Mayor Pro Tem Mike Posey, and Councilman Dan Kalmick—claimed there have been “multiple circumstances” over the years where the council was “uncomfortable with the quality and accuracy of the legal advice provided by the City Attorney.”
Delgleize, Posey, and Kalmick were not immediately available for comment.
The motion cites disagreements over a legal dispute with affordable housing developer Kennedy Commission, where the city is appealing a ruling to pay $3.5 million in attorney’s fees.
In a Dec. 16 open letter to the council, Gates shot back.
“We have prevailed in every single legal battle in the five-year long Kennedy Commission v. City of Huntington Beach case—and the only reason there is an attorney’s fees award looming is because the court erroneously awarded fees to a party in the lawsuit who did not prevail,” Gates wrote. “That is why we are appealing that fees award—you know this. All of Judge Stern’s decisions have been overturned in this case—you know this too—yet you use his words against me?”
Gates said it’s preposterous that the council has alleged concerns about his efforts to protect the city legally, citing his win rate on cases and saving taxpayers over $150 million.
“Under my leadership, we have ushered in an era of an exceedingly high quality of legal representation for the City, which includes overwhelming success in defending our police officers in lawsuits, achieving an over 90% win rate on cases, winning improbable lawsuits and trials, providing high quality legal advice, dramatically increasing levels of professionalism among our attorneys, increasing our hard and efficient work ethic, increasing responsiveness, and so much more,” he wrote.
According to the city’s charter, the city attorney had the power to “represent and appear for the City in any or all actions or proceedings in which the City is concerned” and “prepare any and all proposed ordinances and City Council resolutions and amendments thereto” and “perform such legal functions and duties incident to the execution of the foregoing powers as may be necessary” and “provide advice related to compliance with the City Charter to all elected and appointed officials of the City.”
The motion cites a charter section stating the council’s ability to “employ attorneys to take charge of or may contract for any prosecution, litigation, or other legal matter of business,” though Gates said this is taken entirely out of context.
“That is basically a recognition of their fiscal ability, meaning they control the purse. Yes, they can hire. They could double the size of my staff, for instance. … It’s more of a fiscal or budgetary recognition than it is them having their own ability to simply go out and choose for their own dealing,” he said.
“Of all the people in this debate, meaning me and the city council members who are advocating for seeking alternative legal counsel, I’m the only one who’s qualified to offer a professional legal opinion,” Gates said. “So while they talk about the law and what they can and cannot do under the law, they don’t know. … None of them are lawyers, none of them have state bar licenses, they are literally political figures who are trying to make interpretations of law that are self-serving.”