Claremont considers law firms

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Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

Officials on Monday will interview two legal firms they are considering using to challenge Measure A, City Manager Glenn Southard said Thursday.

The law firm chosen will represent Claremont in a suit already filed by Santa Monica seeking a judicial ruling on the constitutionality of a twin conflict of interest measure passed in that seaside city.

Claremont officials have contended since Measure A’s passage in March that it is unconstitutional. They argue that it violates First Amendment protections of freedom of speech and freedom of association. To date, they have not enforced it.

“I respect what the voters have done,” said Councilman Al Leiga. “But if there are questions about the constitutionality of what they have done then there is a problem. We need to get answers to these questions as quickly as possible.”

Fifty-five percent of Claremont residents who voted in March approved Measure A, an initiative that sought to limit city officials’ acceptance of gifts and outside employment.

Claremont council members voted 4-1 Tuesday to have the city join with Santa Monica in its already filed challenge of an identical measure. By joining Santa Monica’s suit Claremont ensures that any ruling in that case would affect the law passed in Claremont.

The two firms being considered by Claremont are Best, Best and Krieger, which employs City Attorney Sonia Carvalho, and the Orange County firm of Richards, Watson and Gershon. Claremont officials say they expect to pick a firm by early next week.

Claremont’s decision to join Santa Monica could cost the city up to $75,000 in legal fees, according to Carvalho. This use of public money has provoked opposition in some members of the Claremont community.

“This is a slap in the face of voters and taxpayers,” said Sue Castagnetto, a Claremont resident and volunteer with the Oaks Project – the nonprofit political advocacy group that was responsible for getting the measure on the ballot in Claremont and five other California cities including Santa Monica. “To commit potentially huge amounts of taxpayer dollars to fight an initiative which protects taxpayer dollars is more than a little ironic,” she added.

Mayor Paul Held responded Thursday to such thinking, saying that the council was acting out the will of the public in seeking to bring a quick resolution to the lingering issues of constitutionality.

“Even though there is concern among all of us about spending money to do this, there is a sense that we got from most of the public that we need to get closure on this issue,” said Held. “What we did Tuesday is consistent with what we have heard from the public.”

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