The Orange County Board of Supervisors Tuesday authorized the hiring of an outside law firm to defend the county against a lawsuit from Sacramento over who should get more than $73 million in Orange County property tax.

In a unanimous vote, supervisors gave interim Auditor-Controller Jan Grimes authority to hire Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk. Firm partner Thomas W. Hiltachk, once legal counsel to former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, will be the lead lawyer working with the county, according to Supervisor John Moorlach.

The Sacramento lawsuit demands that the county return $73 million in property tax that former Auditor-Controller David Sundstrom withheld earlier this year in defiance of Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget allocations.

The suit stems from the discovery last year that the county had failed to protect its right to $48 million in vehicle license fee revenue and an effort by Brown to take the money to help defray the state’s massive budget deficit.

The supervisors responded to Brown’s action by authorizing Sundstrom to withhold  the $73 million in property tax. State officials say that action is illegal, but the county argues that law requires it.

“It’s an issue where we have a governor that’s not afraid to litigate everything, even when he’s wrong,” Moorlach said.

He said the county agreed to provide Grimes with independent legal counsel based on the advice of County Counsel Nick Chrisos.


Since you've made it this far,

You are obviously connected to your community and value good journalism. As an independent and local nonprofit, our news is accessible to all, regardless of what they can afford. Our newsroom centers on Orange County’s civic and cultural life, not ad-driven clickbait. Our reporters hold powerful interests accountable to protect your quality of life. But it’s not free to produce. It depends on donors like you.

Join the conversation: In lieu of comments, we encourage readers to engage with us across a variety of mediums. Join our Facebook discussion. Message us via our website or staff page. Send us a secure tip. Share your thoughts in a community opinion piece.