Unwise counsel?

Taxpayers will pay for lawsuit over Kim Yamaguchi’s redistricting plan

LEGAL EAGLE <br>Charles Bell, shown here in August with Kim Yamaguchi political consultant David Reade (right), is the California Republican Party’s general counsel.

Charles Bell, shown here in August with Kim Yamaguchi political consultant David Reade (right), is the California Republican Party’s general counsel.

Photo By Tom Angel

Here’s Kim:Kim Yamaguchi got 59.3 percentof the votes when he won office last November. His opponent, Len Fulton, got 40.3 percent.

After an hour in a closed-session meeting last Thursday, Supervisors Jane Dolan and Mary Anne Houx emerged with the Board of Supervisors’ decision written all over their faces.

It didn’t look good for the veteran supervisors.

Their colleagues (and in this case political opponents), Curt Josiassen, Kim Yamaguchi, and Bob Beeler, voted to hire Yamaguchi’s lawyer to represent the board in a lawsuit, presumably against County Clerk Candace Grubbs. The motion, brought by Yamaguchi, passed by the narrowest possible margin, with Dolan and Houx casting the dissenting votes.

The legal services of Sacramento attorney Charles Bell will be paid for with taxpayer money. The cost of the retainer hadn’t been established by our early holiday press times, but the price of this legal maneuvering has already started to smack Butte County in its already-hard-hit wallet. Grubbs’ lawyer, Frederic Woocher, will cost the county $275 an hour, and even Bruce Alpert, the county’s own lawyer, has asked for an outside attorney to review the county’s legal work—at a cost of $140 an hour.

Yamaguchi, Beeler and Josiassen left Thursday’s meeting as soon as Alpert announced the decision. Dolan stayed behind and made a single phone call—to the California Bar Association to ask for an ethics investigation into Bell and whether there’s any conflict of interest inherent in hiring a lawyer who has been conferring with a supervisor (Yamaguchi) for months now.

However, a search of the Bar Association’s list of pending legal actions and investigations revealed that Bell’s record remains clear.

Back in July, when Yamaguchi first announced his redistricting Plan 5 (he called it the Consensus Plan then), he acknowledged that he wrote the plan with Bell’s help. Bell himself attended the contentious August meeting where the supervisors narrowly approved Yamaguchi’s plan. He sat in the front row, right next to David Reade, a local political consultant who served as Yamaguchi’s campaign manager. Reade and Bell, Reade acknowledged back then, have been “friends for some time” and met while Reade was working for his father-in-law, then-Assemblyman Bernie Richter, as his chief of staff.

Bell’s law firm, Bell McAndrews Hiltachk & Davidian of Sacramento, specializes in campaign and election law, according to its Web site. Bell himself is the general counsel to the California Republican Party and has provided legal advice to former Governor Pete Wilson, Attorney General Dan Lungren and Secretary of State and gubernatorial candidate Bill Jones.

He is also an adviser to the California Election Law Recodification Project and was a member of Jones’ election transition team. At least on its Web site, the law firm makes no apologies for its decidedly political sway.

“Politics has become an increasingly regulated field,” the Web site reads. “A complex maze of rules and regulations impacts all participants in government and politics. … Our politically-informed expertise … [is] the hallmark of the firm’s practice.”

Presumably, Bell and Yamaguchi’s next step in this conflict will be to file a lawsuit against Grubbs for refusing to put Yamaguchi’s word-for-word language of the redistricting referendum onto the March ballot. She’s refused on the advice of both her attorney and that of Alpert. Alpert has publicly stated that Yamaguchi is using “flawed” legal reasoning to base his claims and that the wording that Yamaguchi has submitted is both “inflammatory and argumentative.”

Yamaguchi refuses to back down.

He also wants the March election—in which both Dolan and Houx are up for re-election—to reflect the changes made in his redistricting Plan 5. That’s regardless of a wildly successful referendum effort that gathered more than twice the required number of signatures a few weeks ago.

Plan 5 would make it more difficult for both Dolan and Houx to be re-elected, as it would break up much of their urban-Chico voting blocs and add much of Josiassen’s more rural (and conservative) population to them.