Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Lawsuit seeks hefty fines for 5 coastal commissioners

Posted By on Tue, Sep 20, 2016 at 6:24 PM

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Del Norte County Supervisor Martha McClure is one of five coastal commissioners facing thousands — if not millions — of dollars in fines in a civil lawsuit alleging they failed to “disclose private, ‘ex-parte’ meetings with developers, lobbyists and other individuals” as required by law.

The lawsuit filed in San Diego Superior Court last month by the recently formed nonprofit corporation Spotlight on Coastal Corruption also names Commissioners Erik Howell, Wendy Mitchell, Mark Vargas and Steve Kinsey, who serves as the board’s chair.

"We have documented a shocking pattern of under-reporting of ex-parte communications with five Commissioners," said attorney Cory Briggs, who is representing Spotlight, in a statement on the group’s website.

The nonprofit also states “Spotlight found disclosures that consisted of one or two sentences but completely lacked substance. Others were filed weeks or months after commission action. Many were clearly written by the lobbyists themselves, not by the commissioner participating in the ex parte communication.”

"This is not a case of missing a few administrative deadlines. This is a pervasive, systemic disregard for the law designed to keep the public in the dark," continued Briggs, who has made his legal mark in Southern California by filing environmental quality lawsuits.

According to a Los Angeles Times story, the suit served at the commission’s Sept. 7 meeting cites a total of 590 violations over the last two years. The paper reported a commission spokesperson said the state attorney general’s office is reviewing the matter.

While McClure’s time on the commission is drawing to a close following her election loss in June, she’s accused of failing to report such communications 82 times with a potential $7,500 fine per violation — or a total of $615,000 — if a court finds the disclosure rules were not followed in every case.

A call to McClure was not immediately returned. Read previous Journal coverage about the upcoming process to appointment a new North Coast representative here.

Spotlight on Coastal Corruption states on its website that the five defendants could face additional penalties, with McClure’s total potential exposure checking in at $3.15 million.

According to the nonprofit, the commissioners would have to pay any assessed fines out of their own funds and “the penalties will accrue to the state, not to SOCC.”

"We are not bringing this suit for personal enrichment," said SOCC President Kathryn Burton in the nonprofit’s statement. "We are bringing it for public accountability. If commissioners must dig deep into their own pockets to pay the penalties, then there's a better chance that they will stop doing it."

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Kimberly Wear

Kimberly Wear is the assistant editor of the North Coast Journal.

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