Five before Midnight

This site is dedicated to the continuous oversight of the Riverside(CA)Police Department, which was formerly overseen by the state attorney general. This blog will hopefully play that role being free of City Hall's micromanagement.
"The horror of that moment," the King went on, "I shall never, never forget." "You will though," the Queen said, "if you don't make a memorandum of it." --Lewis Carroll


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Location: RiverCity, Inland Empire

Monday, September 29, 2008

City council takes a bye for the week

The Inland Empire commemorates National Banned Books Week. Hopefully, the Riverside Public Library branches are participating in this important event.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Against this backdrop, Banned Books Week stokes a debate about free access to books and materials in other formats at public libraries and schools, and whether such access should be unfettered or restricted.

"All great literature should move us, and make us feel, and cause us to think," Dian J. Pizurie, an English teacher at Notre Dame High School in Riverside, said in an e-mail reacting to "The Kite Runner" case. "This is the reason that literature is banned and burned in countries taken over by extremist governments. Literature allows us to experience other people's joy, sorrow, shame, struggles, and triumphs. And the best part is we get to go through these emotions without having to be imprisoned, beaten, betrayed, or even raped ourselves."

For Georgiev-Roop, the Banned Books display strikes a personal chord.

"This is very simply the First Amendment: that in a democratic society we have the freedom to read whatever we choose. The reason we read is we want to know something, and it is our right to know," said Georgiev-Roop, who emigrated from communist Bulgaria in the 1960s. Censorship pervaded her native country, and she remembers how her parents once obtained a copy off a clandestine press of the banned "Dr. Zhivago" by Boris Pasternak.

What wasn't included in the article was the mysterious disappearance from the downtown library of the local alternative newspaper, Inland Empire Weekly which disappeared from the newspaper racks during the summer of 2007 not long after publishing two controversial articles about the Riverside city government like this one and that one.

After some protest, the periodical reemerged from the parallel dimension and returned to the shelves. At least for now.

No city council meeting this week because it's the fifth Tuesday of the month so a holiday is called. If you haven't been to a city council meeting, you should check it out when meetings do resume on Oct. 7. The ever changing governmental body has changed the rules in the past few years to restrict the public's ability to comment and to pull items from the usually-packed consent calendar. In addition, two city council members apparently have made an agreement between themselves to attack speakers so as to discourage them from coming back if these two individuals don't like their comments. This pervasive rumor is actually pretty believable, because you don't even need to told which two elected officials on the dais would do such a thing.

Attend one meeting and it shouldn't be too difficult to figure out which two entered into that somewhat unholy alliance against democracy and transparency in government if that's what happened. Attend a meeting, try to guess which ones and see if you're correct!

It's funny to see grownups act that way because given that most of the items on the agenda have been decided upon already, there's not much work that's really done in a public forum these days. But it's still important to attend or watch meetings on television or on stream web to keep up with what is going on in your elected city government. And if some of the current cast of elected officials don't act exactly thrilled to see you there (and some of them are that transparent), it's still important to attend and to speak out on issues that are important to you both as a resident and as a voter. And if you're eligible to vote and aren't registered to do so, then get registered!

If you are a resident of the even numbered wards in Riverside, then next year, your ward's council seat comes up for election. If you are a resident of Riverside, you can also vote in the mayor's race which is city-wide. The city is still safe for grass-roots campaigns for city government after an attempt by the Governmental Affairs Committee to try to fool the city's voters into instituting plurality and at-large (during runoffs) "reforms" to the election process failed to do just that and was voted down by the city council earlier this year.

In addition, there are elected officials at the city council meetings who do act like mature adults and don't make spectacles of themselves within the relatively brief time span of council meetings. What they do through their own conduct and demeanor is provide an even greater contrast on the dais between what professionalism looks like and what it doesn't look like.

This opinion article written in response to the protests of the fatal officer-involved shooting of Fernando Luis Sanchez is interesting, in that it's already taking a preemptive and defensive stance pertaining to that shooting when no litigation involving it has even been filed. But the article's also interesting in part because its author attorney John Porter along with his colleague Art Cunningham is and has been Riverside's attorney of choice when it comes to defending itself against lawsuits filed against it in relation to its police department. Porter states in his article that he defends officers but what he actually defends are the cities who hire him and that's not really the same thing at all. What his article does do is point out the complex and tangled relationships between different parties of interest and legal representation in civil litigation involving the city.

Just like the legal interests of the Community Police Review Commission may collide with those of the city, so can those of officers collide with those of the city as well. So even though they are afforded legal defense counsel in this litigation, the potential for conflict of interest is as pronounced as it is for the CPRC. The same potentially applies between the city residents and the city's risk management division.

Because when the city settles lawsuit after lawsuit involving the police department, is it for the best interest of the public? the officers involved? the city? What do you think? Whose interests is the city and its attorneys like Porter really defending? The city's risk management division of course, which is apparently sitting idly while the department is being impacted with serious issues in relation to the budget crisis. That is what he was hired and paid by the city to do, to minimize the city's exposure and often payouts on civil liability. The officers and city are having their legal representation paid for by the public who's very low on the list of priorities held by the city and its attorneys like Porter because if the officers' actions that the city and Porter are defending that are putting the public at risk, then it's clear who Porter is representing.

The officers have their legal defenses paid while under indemnity of the city but take a back seat to the city in determining the course of action that the city's attorney will take, as any decision making by the city government might take place in closed sessions as it's not uncommon to see these forms of lawsuits on city council meeting agendas. One day, Porter representing the city could be championing an officer's action like he did in this article, yet the next day he could be advising the city to pay out a settlement in a lawsuit involving that officer. The officer which Porter has chosen to champion in his article (and himself as the officer's defender) was involved in one of the few cases that even go to trial. That was one reason why he used that individual as his example.

After all, did Porter write about another lawsuit that went to trial in 1999 involving other police officers where the jury decided on a verdict of $715,000? Did he write about cases which were settled in 2001 for $790,000 and $550,000? Did he write about Tyisha Miller and the settlement of that lawsuit for $3 million? Did he write about any of a number of lawsuits that could have contributed to the multitude of outside investigations the department faced in the final years of the 20th Century?

Porter's main focus has largely been lawsuits alleging excessive force including one where a former police officer was sued for assaulting a couple at their home. The couple's attorney filed a Pitchess motion and discovered 12 complaints involving excessive force alone in a five-year period. That officer's final days with the department were marked at some point by Judge William Bailey, Sr. (father of Rusty Bailey) dismissing a case against a man where this officer was the sole witness of the crime of resisting arrest for lack of evidence, because he said he couldn't believe the officer said about anything at that point after listening to him testifying. The remaining two defendants in the trial were acquitted of resisting arrest and battery by a jury and a lawsuit later filed by them was settled by the city.

In fact, the officer was actually scheduled to start a federal civil trial and a Riverside County Superior Court civil trial the same day at one point.

The officer retired four months later after Bailey's comments with a medical disability and a lot of questions.

Porter probably won't be writing opinion piece about his role in representing the city in any of the four to five lawsuits involving that former police officer any time soon. But then he wasn't really representing the officer anyway, but the city.

Porter's been involved in wrongful deaths as well, perhaps including the cases that the city's recently settled for $1.5 million in recent months. Perhaps he was involved in the case where the family of the individual shot were promised by the city that changes would be made in the hiring and training of police officers, not to mention that the critical incidents themselves would be used in training scenarios as examples of what not to do as was the case with Cloud.

It's interesting that Porter chose the case he did involving a shotgun from years ago and not cases like Lee Deante Brown, Douglas Steven Cloud and Summer Marie Lane, cases where the city paid huge sums of money perhaps from the general fund (being self-insured) to make them go away.

Not that Porter doesn't raise some important points in his opinion piece, because officer safety is very important but is that what Porter is really concerned about when he's representing the city's interests? Are the city's interests in these cases always compatible with officer safety? Are they always compatible with the safety of the community? What standard is the city's interests nearly always compatible with?

What Porter also fails to say that there are cases where the officers' actions may be such that they even put themselves at risk and that his job is to protect the city's liability even if it's both the officers' and public's expense. And when it comes to public safety, officer safety or city safety, which one really is it?

So while Porter's article was interesting, it provided an opportunity to further examine exactly what his role is and how it really pertains to what he's written about and the complexities between risk management, officer safety, community safety and legal representation which inevitably can only partner with one of the above.

The Development Committee will be meeting at City Hall on Thursday, Oct. 2 at 2:30 p.m. to discuss whether or not to help developer and campaign donor, Mark Rubin out with his big plans for a big office building. The reality is if City Manager Brad Hudson okays the deal, the city council will fall nicely in line. After all, they gave Hudson the keys to all of the city's interdepartmental borrowing, what's some offices?

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Belinda Graham, interim assistant city manager, said the price for the land is still under negotiation.

The proposal was scheduled to go before the three-member City Council Development Committee on Sept. 18 but the meeting was postponed.

Rubin said that he foresees some type of financial institution on the ground floor, with attorneys' offices in the rest of the building.

"I've had some discussion with law firms, but nothing in writing," Rubin said.

The building would include either one or two levels of subterranean parking and a multistory parking structure immediately south of the building, Rubin said. The project would include parking for at least 500 cars.

Rubin said he would like to start construction in summer 2009 and said the project's estimated cost is between $50 million and $60 million.

The future of ethics training in scandal-ridden San Bernardino County may ultimately be determined by the voters.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Measure S would require training for supervisors staff and top staff members of elected department heads, Wert said.

It would mandate that all supervisors staff be employed under contract. Under existing county requirements, contracts of $50,000 or more must be approved by the board. Most board employees already work under contract, county officials said.

Measure S also grants the board the ability to fire a supervisor's staff member on a four-fifths vote. Presently, three of five supervisors can approve cancellation of a contract but a board member could then rehire the terminated staffer as a regular employee, Wert said.

"Measure S solves this potential loophole," he said in an email message.

The Press Enterprise Editorial Board supports the two incumbents running for reelection in Temecula, albeit with some reservations.

At an election forum in Lake Elsinore, what would the focus be but the lake.

How will the House of Representatives vote to reject a $700 billion bailout package impact the Inland Empire?

The reaction to that vote and the resultant nosedive of nearly 800 points taken by the Dow was mixed.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

The potential economic and political consequences of their votes loomed large: The nation's financial institutions are in turmoil, and all of the area's House members are up for re-election.

Ultimately, the region's delegation split on the House plan, which was defeated on a 228 to 205 vote.

Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, and Joe Baca, D-Rialto, helped vote the plan down.

Four area Republicans voted yes: Ken Calvert, of Corona; David Dreier, of San Dimas; Jerry Lewis, of Redlands; and Mary Bono Mack, of Palm Springs.

Late Monday, some Southern California lawmakers headed home for the scheduled recess. Others remained in Washington, pledging to keep pushing for an accord when Congress reconvenes, possibly as early as Thursday.

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