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Ex-Councilman Accuses Duarte of Ouster Plot

November 19, 1987|SUE AVERY | Times Staff Writer

DUARTE — Former Councilman James Coughlin has filed a $1- million lawsuit against the city, charging that his colleagues duped him into resigning his seat to become city attorney but did not intend to let him keep the job.

In the suit, Coughlin charges that city officials conspired to oust him and that several of the officials told others that he was "a cheat, liar. . ., Duarte's godfather, incompetent as a lawyer. . ., a drunk and morally deficient."

Coughlin, 61, had served on the council for 19 years before he resigned last April. He was named city attorney at the end of May but was ousted one month later.

Named as defendants in the suit are Mayor John Van Doren, Councilmen John Hitt and Terry Michaelis, former Councilmen Ed Beranek and Mervin Money, and Planning Commissioner Jim Kirchner.

Van Doren, Michaelis and Kirchner would not comment. Hitt said only that the suit "has no merit whatsoever." Beranek and Money could not be reached for comment.

Irving Feffer, an attorney hired by the city, said it will "vigorously" fight the suit.

The lawsuit was filed Nov. 5 in Pasadena Superior Court, after the council declined to act on a claim Coughlin filed in August. When the claim was filed, Van Doren, Hitt and Kirchner, then a member of the city's Cable (television) Commission and now a planning commissioner, denied the accusations. Beranek, who did not seek reelection, refused to comment.

The city attorney's job became available last March when William Camil announced his resignation. Coughlin resigned his council seat in April to seek the job. The council suspended its search for a city attorney while a council replacement was sought for Coughlin.

Beranek was named to the council in early May, and Coughlin was selected as city attorney on May 19.

Coughlin served as city attorney until June 23, when, he said, he was told that the city would hire someone else for the job. John Lawson, deputy city attorney for El Monte, was hired July 14.

Council members refused to say then why Coughlin was replaced.

Last year a group of citizens, including Kirchner, questioned some expense claims of council members, asking whether some of the expenses were too high and whether they all related to city business.

The council ordered an independent audit, which found that no receipts were turned in for 40% of the expenses for which reimbursements were sought during the 1985 fiscal year.

The council then adopted a tougher expense accounting system. The resolution, opposed only by Coughlin, sets limits on expenditures for meals and drinks and requires prior council approval for expenses at out-of-town conferences and for expenditures by the wives of council members.

In his suit, Coughlin charges that Van Doren, Beranek, Kirchner and Hitt told him that if he did not reimburse the city for unspecified expenses paid to him or resign from the council, they would file criminal charges against him.

The council in May disallowed $126 in expenses that Coughlin submitted for representing Duarte as city attorney at a convention in Palm Springs on the grounds that those expenses were not related to city business.

Coughlin, who has lived in Duarte for nearly 25 years, said he is moving to La Verne. "If I had remained as city attorney I would have stayed in town," he said. "But I have no ties to Duarte anymore, so it is time to move."

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