O■ By Rusty Strait / Senior Reporter
nce upon a time, a land known for its freedom, free speech and the public’s right to know existed as the United States of America. Also existing in that land was a living, flexible document known as “The United States Constitution.” It originally contained seven articles and 10 amendments. In sixth grade we learned what they were and what they did.
The seven articles set up our form of government. Most folks today never heard of them. The first 10 amendments granted rights to “We the People.” The Constitution was very specific in its intent. Rights not specifically granted to the government were reserved to the States respectively, or to the people (10th Amendment).
It is grievous that the people are no longer allowed to know who visits the people’s house where the president lives. That is a straight out, loud and clear violation of our rights since nowhere in that hallowed document does it give the government that right. But folks, that is just a louder violation. At the local level we are denied that which was ours, not allocated to the local government.
The violation of our rights at hand involves the Anthony Norman wrongful death lawsuit, in which neither the city of Hemet, its agents nor its citizens were a party to until City Attorney Eric Vail convinced the esteemed members of our City Council to employ his law firm, Burke, Williams & Sorensen, LLP, to defend (at the time) a Hemet police captain (now deputy chief) who was charged as one of the defendants in a civil litigation. The Hemet officer in question was being defended by his homeowner’s insurance attorneys. In my opinion, and the attorneys with whom I have spoken, including those representing the plaintiffs in the suit, there was absolutely no reason to involve the city, except that the Hemet city attorney insisted upon it.
In addition to more than $400,000 (by our estimation) of taxpayer money unnecessarily wasted in the officer’s unnecessary defense (remember, he had representation by his homeowners insurance), behind closed doors and with no input from taxpayers, Vail and his mother firm further convinced the City Council to authorize a settlement (without revealing the amount) to get out of the mess they inflicted upon themselves – and upon you, too — as a taxpayer.
Now, according to reliable attorney sources, executed settlement agreements are clearly disclosable public records. The courts and legislature have said that California agencies cannot contract in secret. The city of Hemet is a California agency. To withhold those records as exempt attorney work product is contrary to law, and to the constitutional mandate to broadly interpret laws that support public access. So, if the lawsuit has been settled, there is no legal reason for the city of Hemet to refuse how much public money has been spent defending or settling this case.
In my opinion, then-Captain Webb was caught up in a web of intrigue that had nothing to do with his duties as an officer of the law. That, I am reliably informed, is why the city of Hemet was not named as a defendant in the litigation.
Who are the winners in this situation? The law firm of Burke, Williams & Sorensen, LLP.
Who are the losers? The innocent citizens who pay taxes to the city of Hemet, and the Norman family, for being put through all of this rigmarole by the city in what should have been a quick settlement by the homeowner’s insurance company.