Costa Mesa City Councilman Owes His Lawyer Big-Time

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An arbitration judge ruled last week that Costa Mesa City Councilman Jim Righeimer owes $195,000 plus interest in overdue legal fees to to his corporate attorney, according to OC Weekly and the Daily Pilot.

Righeimer failed to pay that amount in valid legal bills to attorney Milburn Matthews for work on the councilman’s real estate projects in 2010 and 2011, according to OC Weekly, which first reported the story.

Judge Terry Friedman ruled that Righeimer must pay fees he refused to pay from 2010 and 2011.

Righeimer, however, told the Daily Pilot he believed his company, not he, was responsible for the fees.

“I’ve always paid my debts and my bills, and this was just part of a big ol’ economic downturn that we’ve gone through, but we’ll get it settled, and that’s where it’s at,” Righeimer told the newspaper. “We’re in the middle of settlement negotiations now.”

From the OC Weekly story:

The law firm filed the notice of the binding arbitration award after Friedman last month rejected Righeimer’s attempts to delay a ruling as well as his stance that he wasn’t personally liable for any of the bills.

Matthews shared with Friedman an April 2010, letter from the councilman that acknowledged the debts by writing, “I will do everything I can to get you paid.”

But, to the lawyer’s displeasure, Righeimer also added that he wasn’t personally responsible to pay the bills. Matthews fired back a letter that challenged the assertion.

Friedman determined that Righeimer breached the contract and ordered him and his Marketplace at Weston Ranch to pay the debt.

According to a mandatory 2011 financial disclosure report, the first-term councilman reported his portion of the Marketplace property is valued between $100,000 and $1 million.

Righeimer, who shares Newport Beach offices with Orange County Republican Party chairman/corporate lobbyist Scott Baugh, is considered a top enemy of public employee unions in California.

He could not be reached for comment.

— NICK GERDA

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