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O.C. case brings scrutiny of union law firm's tactics

Upland lawyers are known for aggressive attacks on city halls on behalf of police.

September 16, 2012|Christopher Goffard

He described Dammeier's tactics as "litigation terrorism," though within the law.

Buena Park Councilman Fred Smith said when he became mayor in 2010, the city's police union -- represented by Lackie, Dammeier & McGill -- objected to his choice for police chief and his insistence on installing cameras in patrol cars.

As he left a party that December, he said, a Buena Park policeman pulled him over and gave him a sobriety test, which he passed.

Though he has no evidence linking the law firm to the incident, he said a police union leader called him later and said, "Have you had enough yet?"

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday, September 17, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 52 words Type of Material: Correction
Law firm tactics: An article in the Sept. 16 Section A about negotiating tactics used by the law firm Lackie, Dammeier and McGill on behalf of police unions said the Los Angeles Police Protective League had dropped the firm. The league recently denounced the firm's tactics, but had not been a client.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, September 23, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 53 words Type of Material: Correction
Law firm tactics: An article in the Sept. 16 Section A about negotiating tactics used by the law firm Lackie, Dammeier and McGill on behalf of police unions said that the Los Angeles Police Protective League had dropped the firm. The league recently denounced the firm's tactics but had not been a client.

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In Costa Mesa, Righeimer, a real estate developer, has been the most visible proponent of the city's plan to save money by outsourcing hundreds of municipal jobs. The campaign has made Costa Mesa a model for the GOP and Righeimer an object of deep loathing by public employee unions.

In his 2010 campaign for City Council, Righeimer argued that soaring labor costs were pushing the city toward bankruptcy. He publicized the pay of Costa Mesa's police brass, many of them making more than $200,000.

The unions, in response, publicized Righeimer's personal financial woes, including liens and debts, which Righeimer says he's paid off.

The council, on which Righeimer's bloc enjoys a 4-1 majority, has outsourced the city's police helicopter program, replaced some sworn police officers with civilians and insisted on a less lucrative pension package for new officers.

At the pub on Aug. 22, Righeimer, who describes himself as an infrequent drinker, said he bought a Diet Coke for himself and one for fellow Councilman Steve Mensinger.

As Righeimer left the pub, a white car without license plates followed his Yukon down the block, surveillance video shows.

"I think he's DUI," private investigator Chris Lanzillo told a 911 dispatcher as he followed the councilman. "He's swerving all over the road. I don't know what's wrong with him."

Righeimer said he was given a field sobriety test in front of his three young daughters. He said his wife confronted Lanzillo, who had apparently parked down the block waiting for police to arrive, but he swerved around her and sped away.

Lanzillo says he was on another assignment that afternoon and wasn't tailing Righeimer.

Dammeier described Lanzillo as "one of many PIs we have used" and said that he was not employed or authorized to conduct surveillance on Righeimer.

"We will not apologize for 'aggressively' protecting those that put their lives on the line every day protecting all of us," the firm said in a statement.

"We will continue to fight for our clients using every available legal tool at our disposal."

Righeimer said he is eager to know what the district attorney's investigation reveals about Lanzillo, a former Riverside police officer who claimed in a lawsuit he'd been fired for union activities. His former chief told the Riverside Press-Enterprise that Lanzillo was fired for doing "really bad things."

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christopher.goffard@latimes.com

Staff writer Lauren Williams contributed to this report.

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