Orange County district attorney investigators obtained a search warrant late last week seeking records at the offices of an aggressive law firm accused of bullying city leaders across Southern California on behalf of police unions.
The warrant, which was sealed, also targeted a Rancho Cucamonga home owned by the family of law firm partner Dieter Dammeier.
Investigators then raided the office in the morning Oct. 10, carting off “scores of boxes full of documents and other materials,” according to the San Bernardino County Sentinel.
District attorney spokeswoman Susan Kang Schroeder did not return a message seeking comment.
The investigation comes amid accusations that the firm was attempting to blackmail Costa Mesa City Council members in order to get better deals for police officers.
The firm had even posted a playbook on its website that openly called for intimidating city leaders.
“The association should be like a quiet giant in the position of, ‘do as I ask and don't piss me off,’ ” the playbook advised. “Focus on a city manager, councilperson, mayor or police chief and keep the pressure up until that person assures you his loyalty and then move on to the next victim.”
The law firm drew sharp criticism last year when Costa Mesa Councilman Jim Righeimer, who is now mayor, accused the firm of orchestrating a botched attempt to have him arrested for drunk driving.
Chris Lanzillo, a private investigator who has worked for the law firm, followed Righeimer home from a bar last August and called 911 to report that he was driving drunk.
An officer then came to Righeimer’s house, but determined that the mayor was not drunk after asking him to follow a pen with his eyes.
Righeimer also produced a receipt showing that all he bought that night was two Diet Cokes.
The district attorney’s office has been investigating the Costa Mesa incident, serving a search warrant on the private investigator’s house last year and interviewing members of the city’s police union, according to the Daily Pilot.
Righeimer and fellow Councilman Steve Mensinger filed a lawsuit recently against the Costa Mesa police officers' union, Lanzillo and the law firm, alleging they were trying to coerce and intimidate council members into changing their votes.
The issue of public safety spending is in many ways the backdrop to the Costa Mesa drama, with most of the city’s unfunded pension obligations owed to police officers and firefighters.
A write-up by Dammeier touts his firm’s role in making Costa Mesa’s police officers “the highest paid in Southern California.” He also noted that the boost in Costa Mesa’s pay would help boost officer pay in other cities.
“Many agencies in Orange County base their salaries on the average of pay of other agencies in the County,” Dammeier wrote. “It is anticipated this increase will have significant impact in Orange County and trickle out to the rest of Southern California.”
Officials in other cities, too, have come forward to allege bullying by the firm.
Buena Park Councilman Fred Smith has said that after leaving a party for two other council members in late 2010, he was pulled over by a police officer and told he smelled of alcohol. Smith was sober and not arrested, he said, but the officer called the next day to say, “Have you had enough yet?”
The law firm was formed in 1997 by Michael Lackie, a retired Riverside County sheriff’s deputy, and by Dammeier, a former Cypress police officer.
It has represented most police unions in Orange County, according to Dammeier.
The firm figured prominently in criminal charges last year against the former city manager of Upland.
The former city manager, Robb Quincey, was accused by his ex-girlfriend of sending threatening text messages and attacking her car.
Quincy ultimately agreed in secret to a $50,000 settlement with Dammeier’s firm in order to “handle” the domestic violence police report, according to The Orange County Register.
The firm was also accused recently by the nation’s largest police defense fund of committing “serious acts of misconduct regarding their billing practices.”
One of the findings was that an attorney at the firm was triple billing clients by working “on three separate client cases simultaneously” and billing the defense fund “three times for the same period of time spent on each case,” according to the San Bernardino Sun.
With pressure building on the firm, it announced plans last month to close.
Dammeier didn’t return a message seeking comment.