Odle dislikes lawyer’s ‘tone’ but approves payment

While it looks like another lawsuit in the continuing saga of Butte County’s redistricting soap opera has been avoided, there’s still plenty of bad blood flowing between at least one of the lawyers involved and the county.

At issue is the almost $47,000 Butte County owes Fred Woocher, the lawyer who successfully defended Clerk Candace Grubbs in a lawsuit that, had the plaintiff Board of Supervisors majority won, would have forced her to use referended supervisorial boundaries in the March 5 election.

The saga seemed pretty well over and done with when the board majority lost its case in December and the lawyers involved submitted their final bills to the county. But in the brave new world of redistricting and Plan 5, even the bills are political, and nothing is easy.

Case in point: Woocher’s bill.

When he submitted it last month, he blacked out the detail portion of the invoice, which broke down exactly what the time outlined was used for (like phone conferences, legal research, etc.). Woocher said that’s just the way his office does things, as the space is used to detail out attorney-client privileged information, strategies and the private legal theory used in the case.

Supervisors Kim Yamaguchi and Curt Josiassen, though, charged that Woocher was “hiding something” and hinted that he was covertly using the blacked-out hours to work for colleague Jane Dolan, who was named as a real-party-in-interest in the suit. They managed to raise enough of a stink that Interim Chief Administrative Officer Larry Odle agreed to hold back payment (along with payment of Yamaguchi and Josiassen’s lawyer) until the bills, with the confidential parts not blacked out, could be examined by an independent third party.

The inference plainly infuriated Woocher, who fired back with a pointed letter to Odle, demanding payment and threatening a lawsuit if he didn’t get it.

“Mr. Josiassen, using the slanderer’s timeworn weasel terminology … suggested that there have been questions about the ‘sophistication’ of [my] briefs,” he wrote, “[but] I will not stand for having my professional qualifications impugned in this manner, as [Yamaguchi and Josiassen] desperately seek to find a scapegoat for their actions in wasting more than $100,000 of taxpayers’ money.”

In the letter, dated Feb. 7, Woocher goes on to say that he will not re-submit the bills to the county without the black marks, since the county was “an adversary” in the lawsuit and therefore has a conflict of interest in viewing confidential information. He threatened to file suit against the county to recoup payment if it wasn’t approved by Feb. 15.

But at the same time, Odle pointed out Tuesday morning, Woocher sent Yang a copy of the disputed billings. She has since approved them for payment, and they are on their way to the Butte County Controller’s Office for payment, Odle said Tuesday.

It’s that last twist—first refusing to provide the bills in question, raising a stink in the media about it, and then quietly submitting them anyway—that really irks Odle.

"This was a very dishonorable way of doing business," Odle said. "All we wanted was to take a look at the bills, and they look fine, but [Woocher] didn’t have to make such a fuss about it."