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Ruling on Releasing Corona E-Mails Is Postponed

Activists want to see messages of councilmen whose defunct firm is subject of a probe.

June 02, 2004|Seema Mehta | Times Staff Writer

A Riverside County judge on Tuesday postponed ruling on whether to release 338 e-mails written by two Corona councilmen whose defunct consulting business is being investigated by the FBI.

The messages were written by Councilmen Jeff Miller and Darrell Talbert, who formed a consulting firm aimed at helping cities start municipal utilities at the same time Corona was trying to take over Southern California Edison's power lines in the city, an ultimately unsuccessful effort that cost more than $3 million.

Judge Sharon Waters postponed deciding whether to make the e-mails public because attorneys for Miller and Talbert had not had time to review a last-minute filing by the city.

The filing, a declaration by an outside attorney who worked on the city's takeover bid, was received Friday by the city's attorney and Sunday by the councilmen's attorneys. Craig J. de Recat's declaration, which said both sides have inaccurately described how Talbert's and Miller's personal e-mails wound up in city hands, lays out a timeline of the Edison litigation.

Waters delayed the hearing until Tuesday to give the attorneys time to review and respond to the declaration. A temporary restraining order on releasing the e-mails, issued last month, remains in place.

The e-mails stem from Municipal Energy Solutions, the consulting firm that Talbert and Miller formed in June 2002 with Glenn Prentice and George Hanson, the then-general manager and assistant general manager of the city's utility, and David Huard, a lawyer with Manatt, Phelps & Phillips who represented Corona on energy issues.

At the time, Miller and Talbert were advocates of a plan to take over Edison facilities that was approved by the council in late 2002. Edison fought the plan, and the city dropped its bid in May 2003.

In December, community activists Jack Wyatt and Louise Mazochi filed public records act requests about city spending on the takeover bid. They have seen thousands of pages of legal bills and other documents and allege that Miller and Talbert had a conflict of interest and personally benefited from money the city spent on its utility effort. They believe the e-mails, which came into city hands during litigation with Edison, will prove it.

During the hearing Tuesday, City Atty. Peter Mort urged the judge to read the e-mails, which have been filed with the court under seal.

Mark J. Austin, the attorney representing Talbert and Miller, argued that publicly disclosing the electronic messages would violate the councilmen's privacy. But he said he did not object if the judge wished to see the communications.

"If she reads the e-mails, we're confident she will discover they are irrelevant to city business," he said.

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