Update: As of Monday, Sept. 11, the City of Santa Clara says it does not comment on pending litigation, but to date, it has not received the lawsuit filed by former City Attorney Brian Doyle.
Former Santa Clara City Attorney Brian Doyle has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit, claiming he was fired for being a whistleblower. The city council dismissed him in March 2021.
As an at-will employee, Doyle could be dismissed at any time for any or no reason. At-will employees can claim wrongful termination only if their dismissal resulted from discrimination or retaliation.
Doyle alleges that he is the victim of a conspiracy between the San Francisco 49ers and city council members and that he was dismissed for “blowing the whistle” on this conspiracy. However, the complaint presents only conjecture as evidence of the alleged conspiracy.
Dec. 8, 2020 Council Meeting at Center of Allegations
Doyle’s complaint focuses on the Dec. 8, 2020 Santa Clara city council meeting. At that meeting, Council Member Raj Chahal requested a closed session to discuss the 2017 voting rights lawsuit the City had lost in Superior Court and was currently appealing.
Doyle alleges that his firing was retaliation for his “whistleblowing” at this meeting. The complaint states that he alerted the council “to the possibility of prosecution for receiving a bribe,” “possible violation” of Penal Code section 68 and the Hobbs Act, and refusing to “participate in a closed session discussion that could lead to a criminal investigation and charges.”
However, at no time during the meeting did Doyle allege bribery or discuss the Hobbs Act and Penal Code 68, as the meeting transcript shows. Further, accusations of intimidation at the meeting came not from Doyle but from council members who accused Doyle of trying to intimidate them. Yet the complaint is salted with the word “bribery” without describing any actual incidence of it.
What the transcript does show is Doyle’s efforts to prevent the closed session meeting. He repeatedly told the council that because they had campaigned on settling the voting rights lawsuit, they had a “common law conflict of interest” that would prevent them from participating in any decisions about it. [Dec 8 2020 council meeting transcript]
Conspiracy Conjectures and Leading Language
Doyle is correct in saying that the 49ers had publicly made it clear that they would “like to see” him “gone.” However, only one council member said this at the Apr. 12, 2021 meeting, Suds Jain, and not two as the complaint claims. Council Member Kevin Park said “several people” expressed to him “their concerns about the City Attorney.” Public commentary at the time indicated that others in the community were dissatisfied with Doyle’s conduct.
However, his claim that the 49ers engineered his removal rests on his conjectures.
Doyle’s complaint makes vague statements like, “Plaintiff reasonably believe the actions of Chahal…was furtherance of a quid pro quo agreement,” “plaintive developed a reasonable belief the specific members of the city council had agreed to a quid pro quo with third parties acting on behalf of the ownership of the 49ers.” The complaint offers no evidence to support any of these suppositions.
Doyle alleges that an independent expenditure committee to oppose a 2020 ballot measure* created by former congressman Mike Honda and heavily funded by the 49ers, aimed to “render the appeal in the CVR a litigation moot in furtherance of their goal,” which the complaint says was “favorable settlements” in 49ers lawsuits.
In fact, if the measure passed, the plaintiffs in the CVRA lawsuit promised a second one because the law “disfavors” all at-large voting systems. Further, the attorneys in the case — Robert Rubin of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, law firm Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian & Ho — and plaintiff Wesley Mukoyama have no known connection to the 49ers, nor does Doyle offer any.
The complaint makes many insinuations besides bribery. It insinuates that the 49ers’ independent expenditure committees were coordinated with campaigns by referring to them as “purportedly independent.” And it calls the 49ers’ independent expenditures “unprecedented,” although big spending in city campaigns was pioneered by Santa Clara police union’s developer-funded gray money PAC in 2016.
Elsewhere, the complaint describes Council Member Anthony Becker as “indicted councilmember,” leading the reader to infer that he was indicted for something to do with the malfeasance alleged in the complaint; only a footnote describes the indictment, which is entirely unconnected with anything alleged in the complaint.
Council members are referred to as the “49er five,” a disparaging term coined by a blogger closely allied with Mayor Lisa Gillmor.
The complaint further misleads by calling the Dec. 8, 2020 meeting, where new members were sworn in, a “ceremonial” meeting that “would not have included a closed session.” In fact, both 2016 and 2018 meetings where newly-elected and re-elected council members were sworn in included closed sessions about litigation and labor contracts.
Doyle also claims that his employment prospects were irrevocably damaged by being fired from Santa Clara. He’s been Merced’s interim city attorney since last June. He’s also been collecting a City of San Jose pension since 2012, currently $124,814.
The lawsuit asks for damages and attorney’s fees and costs, but not reinstatement as city attorney.
*Measure C proposed replacing the court-ordered single-member council districts with three multimember at-large districts.