It began as a request from a private citizen.
A private citizen writes a public body, asking it to spend public money to pay his legal bills.
The request is made in private. The issue is discussed in private, with no record of the discussions.
The request is granted.
There is no public discussion on this decision to commit an unknown amount of public money to pay a private citizen’s legal bills.
The public body refuses to release the contents of the original written communication from the private citizen, or of its response to that communication.
The lawyer for the public body is also the lawyer for the private citizen, and continues to represent both parties for more than two years.
The legal case stems from actions taken more than four years earlier by the private citizen when he was a member of the public body.
The public body would later acknowledges that it knew the private citizen’s actions were against the law. These actions by the private citizen occurred before any of the current elected members of the public body were in office.
The public body also would say later that it believed it had a legal obligation to pay the private citizen’s legal bills.
When the legal bills begin to come in, they are included in the public body’s regular monthly list of bills and are approved by the public body. The legal bills grow, exceeding $100,000.
Initially, the public body has an opportunity to join the plaintiff in the lawsuit claiming that one of its former members acted illegal, but declines
The public body’s lawyer, on behalf of the private citizen, rejects offers to settle the case before trial, and makes no counter offer.
The public body is separated from the case by another judge, but continues to call itself a defendant.
At trial, a judge rejects testimony by former and current members of the public body in support of the private citizen’s actions.
The judge rules against the private citizen, declaring his actions as a former member of the public body were in violation of state conflict-of-interest statutes. He levies a $9,000 fine against the private citizen.
The decision also means the private citizen faces a bill for the legal costs incurred by the plaintiff in the case.
After the decision, members of the public body and its paid staff continues to aggressively defend the private citizen, openly criticizing the judge’s ruling, and criticizing the judge’s legal expertise.
In response to public criticism of its continued financial support of the private citizen, the public body says it is obligated to pay legal bills of a former employee who acted as part of his normal duties. It claims that elected directors are all employees.
The public body hires an additional law firm, one that specializes in appeals, and vows to seek a new trial, spending nearly $50,000 in an effort to convince the judge of his own errors.
The judge rejects the bid for a new trial.
Four days later, the appellate lawyer hired by the public body, acting on behalf of the private citizen, files a notice that it will appeal the ruling.
Ten days later, the public body decides it will no longer pay for the private citizen’s appeals. Despite its earlier defense of the private citizen, the public body says its obligation to pay for the private citizen’s defense ended when the judge rejected a bid for a new trial. The public body also says it will not pay for any appeal, and it will not pay for any fines or plaintiff legal bills incurred by the private citizen.
Two months later, the private citizen reveals in a court document that the public body had informed him the legal bills would no longer be paid because it had determined he had acted “outside the scope” of his duties.
The private citizen also seeks to avoid paying the plaintiff’s legal bills, pleading for leniency on the grounds that he was given bad advice by the public body and its lawyer. The judge rejects his arguments.
The public body ends its own contract with the private citizen’s lawyer, although it decides to continue payments for another three months.
This is the story of the San Lorenzo Valley Water District’s relationship with a former board member, Terry Vierra. The story is continuing.
The prequel: The original real estate deal that resulted in a sales commission for the real estate firm owned by Vierra and his wife, Molly Bischoff. Stay tuned.