The lawyers who launched the demise of mayor Bob Filner used Filner's final days in office to wrangle over the legal fees the city owed them for a lawsuit that blocked the dredging of the Tijuana River Valley for two years.
On August 12, Upland attorney Cory Briggs and Encinitas lawyer Marco Gonzalez filed documents in San Diego Superior Court asking for $95,350 for Gonzalez’s firm, while Briggs asked for $38,100 in legal fees. Both asked that fees be multiplied by 1.5, which would have brought their fees to over $200,000; Gonzalez asked for an additional $4500 in consultant fees.
On September 27, judge Ronald Prager ordered the city to pay Gonzalez and Briggs $144,500 in fees, recognizing that the two had been correct in challenging the city's end-run around its own water-quality rules.
But Judge Prager did not award the full amount the lawyers asked for.
The city argued that the firms should not benefit from the multiplier that can be applied to California Environmental Quality Act cases, including when the ideas are novel or the suit keeps the lawyers from other work.
"While petitioners claim this lawsuit kept them from other work, the evidence suggests otherwise," deputy city attorney Andrea Contreras wrote in court filings. "The entire City Attorney's Office appears to be defending or recently defended at least 15 lawsuits brought by [Briggs’s firm] and seven lawsuits brought by [Gonzalez's firm].”
The law firms filed the dredging lawsuit in November 2011, challenging the city's environmental impact report for the permit that allowed the city to clear the sediment and trash out of two high-risk channels in the flood-prone Tijuana River Valley.
Gonzalez and Briggs argued that the city was breaking its own rules by issuing emergency permits to dredge rather than doing a full review and admitting that the dredging is a regular, annual necessity.
The courts agreed with them and sent the city back to work on its permit. Meanwhile, worried residents went without the channels being dredged, which put them at high risk of flooding.
The case settled in March 2013. In the settlement agreement, the city and the lawyers agreed to a range of fees between $50,000 and $200,000 and agreed not to disclose the range of fees they'd agreed to.
In his quest for fees, Gonzalez noted the valley residents’ anger over the blocked dredging as a reason to increase his fees:
"It was a contentious action and unpopular in the community," Gonzalez wrote. "Indeed, in numerous discussions with city councilmembers, city staff and other interested parties, petitioners were blamed for putting private property at risk for our unwillingness to rubberstamp flawed versions of the [city's master stormwater plan].”