The Irvine City Council Tuesday installed Fullerton-based Jones & Mayer to provide interim city attorney services while city leaders await bids for the position, part of a power transition by Republican council members who became the majority after last November's election.
After council members appointed the firm by a 4-1 vote — Councilwoman Beth Krom casting the only no vote — the firm's owner, Richard Jones, took the dais as interim city attorney.
“I hold with great respect the city of Irvine and the opportunity to serve the city of Irvine,” Jones said. He said he recognized his position is only interim.
The council's Democrats — Larry Agran and Beth Krom — raised questions about the process to appoint Jones and the quick termination of the previous city attorney, the firm Rutan and Tucker, which had been the city's legal counsel for decades.
Agran accused the Republicans of engaging in a hasty “political action.” He also said the transition between legal firms would end up costing the city and reduce the quality of representation. Agran demanded to know how Jones & Mayer would handle the city's complex legal challenges.
“This is a serious mistake,” Agran said. “This move, in this way, is contrary to the best interests of the city of Irvine.”
Krom also argued that, while Jones & Mayer is offering a rate structure that is less than Rutan & Tucker's, the learning curve Jones & Mayer is facing will mean more billable work hours. “The fact is they have a lot of hours to put in to serve any meaningful role with us,” she said.
The biggest legal issue facing the city is its lawsuit against the state to restore a massive revenue source key to a decades-long plan to build the 1,300-acre Orange County Great Park. City officials are, however, moving to keep Dan Slater of Rutan and Tucker to continue advising on redevelopment issues, according to a staff report.
Republican Councilman Jeffrey Lalloway said the Democrats were expressing “faux outrage” because the removal and installation of top bureaucrats is a regular occurrence in cities. “This is business. This is not personal,” he said.
Councilwoman Christina Shea, also a Republican, acknowledged that the appointment was simply part of a new political reality in the city.
When the Democrats held the majority, the law firm took positions against the council's Republicans. For example, Mayor Steven Choi and Shea were barred access to resumes submitted by candidates for the Great Park CEO position, so they sued the city in 2008 for the right to review the documents.
“These things happen based on new leadership, new direction, new focus for councils,” Shea said.