Lawyers with the city of Irvine will be asking former Great Park consultants to allow extensions of the statute of limitations deadlines on potential lawsuits against them as the attorneys further investigate whether the claims are viable.
At a special closed session Tuesday, City Council members voted 4-1, with Beth Krom dissenting, to try and negotiate the deals, known in legalize as tolling agreements. Attorneys would be seeking the agreements with consultants Gafcon, Forde & Mollrich and the city’s contract attorney firm, nn and Tucker.
The potential lawsuits stem from the city’s investigation into over $250 million spent on the 1,300-acre park project, which was supposed to rival the likes of New York Central Park but instead has become a poster-child for massive public works projects gone awry.
Meanwhile, the OC Weekly reported the city has also filed a suit alleging contempt of court against Larry Agran, the former council leader and park chairman, for not identifying volunteers to his election campaign. Attorneys are trying to find out whether park consultants also volunteered for Agran’s political campaigns, which the attorneys argue would be a conflict of interest.
Aleshire & Wynder, the law firm hired to assist with the investigation, has found evidence so far to file six lawsuits.
The details of all the claims aren’t known, but the firm’s audit report indicates that lawsuits could be filed over an undisclosed conflict of interest between Gafcon, which co-headed the consultants team known as Great Park Design Studio, and Forde & Mollrich, the park’s former, $100,000 per-month public relations consultant.
Gafcon was performing renovation work on the home of Forde & Mollrich principal Stu Mollrich, a Design Studio subconsultant. Gafcon has denied that any conflict of interest existed because of the work.
Although it seems counterintuitive, Aleshire & Wynder partner David Aleshire said the consultants and Rutan and Tucker might sign the tolling agreements because it gives attorneys time to determine whether the claims of their potential lawsuits are valid. If not, the suits won’t be filed.
But if the consultants don’t sign the tolling agreements, city officials might then have to file the suits and vet them after the fact, Aleshire said.
“We don’t necessarily want to sue you if we can work this out,” he said.
Meanwhile, attorneys with another firm, GdBFERGUSON, challenged having Aleshire & Wynder represent the city, saying during public comments before the closed door meeting that it’s a conflict of interest to have the same firm that did what was ostensibly an independent audit turn around and ask to be the city’s advocate in a court battle.
GdBFERGUSON partner James Ferguson said his firm would offer an alternative model, whereby the firm would evaluate the validity of the lawsuits’ claims and then, if the suits are feasible, hire a team of niche attorneys to conduct the litigation. By only charging a flat management fee, that would remove any conflict of interest, according to Ferguson.
Aleshire responded that “any attorney” you hire has a financial interest in seeing lawsuits filed, but that doesn’t mean the attorney shouldn’t be hired. However, he said it would be the council’s call whether to hire other attorneys to evaluate Aleshire & Wynder’s claims.
“That kind of comes with the territory,” Aleshire said.
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