Fair Board Votes to Cooperate With DA’s Probe of Fairground Sale

Chaos at the Fair
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Orange County’s Fair Board unanimously voted Thursday morning to comply with a district attorney request that they waive their attorney client privilege over the Deputy Attorney General who fired the board in 2009 after members engaged in discussions to privatize the state fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.

There have been longstanding questions about how fair board members at the time sought to privatize the fairgrounds and transfer ownership to a non-profit they were forming back in 2009. That effort quickly collapsed but spawned several other unsuccessful bids to privatize the property, which was ultimately rejected by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Fair board attorney Roger Grable of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips – who has been representing the fairgrounds as legal counsel ever since the attorney general fired them as a client in 2009 – said the waiver would only apply to all issues related to the efforts to privatize the fairgrounds.

Grable said the district attorney’s office had contacted him earlier this month seeking the waiver and advising him that an investigation was ongoing.

“This is part of the DA’s investigation,” said Grable.

The waiver, would related “simply to the fair sale,” Grable said. “There’s no records to be implicated.”

Two members of the fairgrounds board who were involved in those discussions – Kristina Dodge and Joyce Tucker – recused themselves from the vote. Another director involved in the bid to privatize the fairgrounds – David Ellis – did not attend Thursday’s meeting.

While all fair board members supported the request of district attorney investigators, Ali Jahangiri – one of the last-minute Schwarzenegger administration appointees in late 2010 brought in to support a sale – called the effort a witchhunt and hoped aloud that the waiver would bring the issue to a close.

“Ever since I came in four years ago, this has been a topic. And it’s been lingering and it’s taken up a lot of our time,” he said. “There’s nothing to hide. Expose what we need to expose and lets resolve this”

“I’ve heard this for four years, and it’s like a witch hunt and you can’t find the witch,” he said. “And I’m really sick of hearing this.”

“It’s just dragging us down,” he said.

Fair Board Director Nick Berardino – who urged the establishment of the Fair Sale Review Committee – took issue with that comment saying “it wasn’t to have a witch hunt. It was about getting to the truth.”

Another fair board director, Doug La Belle said it was important to “let the two law enforcment agencies talk it through.”

Activist Theresa Sears, who worked on the committee with former Los Alamitos Police Chief Mike McCrary, took issue with Jahangiri’s comments saying a consistent history of cover ups by the fair board made such a review necessary.

She also noted that the committee found many questionable mail and wire transfers up to a Sacramento joint powers authority used to launder lobbyist and lawyer payments enabling the privatization effort.

“To name call it a witch hunt is really a violation of the public’s right to know,” Sears said.

“This is a case of what not to do in a public agency.”

Local prosecutors want to have a frank discussion with Deputy Attorney General Helen Arens – seeking information about what prompted her abrupt firing of the Orange County Fair Board as a client back in December 2009.

In July of that year, Arens, working for then-state Attorney General Jerry Brown, came on as general counsel to the OC Fair and Event Center in the midst of a growing controversy over an attempted privatization of the fairgrounds in Costa Mesa by a faction of Republican board members.

The board members, most of whom had been appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, had attempted to purchase the property through a hastily formed non-profit entity. That was too much for Brown’s office, which took the unusual step of firing the Fair Board as a client.

The Dec. 12, 2009 letter by Deputy Attorney General Matthew Rodriguez concluded that given the “seemingly intertwined and potentially conflicting interests of the district, the district board members and the non-profit, we have determined that we should withdraw from providing legal services.”

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