Fans of Evita will remember these lyrics: “When the money keeps rolling in, you don’t ask how. Think of all the people guaranteed a good time, now!”
Well, a lot of people at Rutan and Tucker Law firm have made plenty $$$ off Fullerton taxpayers, especially its redevelopment attorney Jeff Oderman.
Oderman has a record of loyalty to city staff and staff-directed projects, even if it means bamboozling the council (acting as redevelopment agency). Take the City Lights low-income housing project on East Commonwealth (next to the Old Post Office). In 1997 the Agency-assigned developer Caleb Nelson (who was living out of his car) disappeared. The whole deal should have ben sent back to the Council for reconsideration. A request-for-proposal should have been issued to give developers an equal opportunity.
Instead, LA developer Ajit Mithaiwala appears from nowhere to take over the project. Then-RDA Director Chaplupsky starts dealing with Ajit, until council members Norby, Sa and Jones start wondering aloud– “where did this developer come from?” Oderman claimed Ajit was now the developer. Not true, Jeff! Despite demands from the council majority, no document was ever produced showing that Mithaiwala had ever been legally assigned the project. His shoddy construction of LA projects was also a concern.
The council saw past Oderman’s bad advice and voted to end the project. Then, Mithaiwala threatened to sue Dick Jones personally for derogatory comments he made about future tenants. Jones got no protection from Oderman and instead Jones was pressured to change his vote. He did, and the project went through.
In 1999 the City started a breach-of-contract suit against Southwest Engineering, Inc. for non-performance on the Basque Yard remodel. It turned out that Southwest had used Rutan and Tucker to defend itself against a similar suit with another city. For a firm to represent both parties in a lawsuit–even if not the same case–is a serious question of legal ethics. Yet Oderman never told the council, who found out about it from a third source–when it was too late to change lawyers.
Oderman then recommends the City settle with the non-performing contractor, paying Southwest over $1 million.
Now Oderman is giving the council/agency the same bad advice on blight in the proposed expanded redevelopment area. Its passage will lead to at least two legal challenges on the bogus blight findings. County Counsel Attorney James Harman and FFFF’s attorney Bob Ferguson have stated convincingly and repeatedly why the blight findings fail legal muster.
Similar blight findings in many other cities–including Upland, Mammoth Lakes, Diamond Bar, Murietta, Arcadia and Glendora–have been thrown out by the courts. Fullerton’s may well be headed in that direction. Has Oderman cautioned the council about the legal risks? Or is he there to provide cover for the staff and the consultants?
But, what does Oderman care? A lengthy lawsuit only adds to his hourly billings ($400/hr. adds up pretty fast). Win or lose, he’ll still be paid. If Oderman is really so confident about winning the long legal blight fight ahead, then pay him on a contingency!
Please, City Council–hire a lawyer to represent you–not defend staff boondoggles. Until then, the money keeps rolling in for Rutan and Tucker! $400 per hour for 15 years of bad advice.