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In what alternative universe did the Santa Clara city government think an open lawsuit against a prospective City Attorney would not draw attention?

The Mercury had the story online Monday evening – 24 hours before the City Council meeting to make an official offer. When was the last time the Mercury took such prompt note of a Santa Clara hiring?

As anyone who can spell g-o-o-g-l-e knows by now, in 2009 Stockton Deputy City Attorney Lori Whittaker brought a sexual harassment lawsuit against Stockton’s former City Attorney, and Santa Clara’s prospective City Attorney, Richard Nosky.

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The case is still pending, kicked back into public view when Stockton fired Whittaker after her 2010 application to open a marijuana dispensary. Not unreasonably, Stocktonians may just have felt that having a city attorney dabbling in the marijuana business wasn’t going to do the city any favors.

Whittaker expanded her lawsuit, charging that her firing was retaliation. “The value of this lawsuit just went up tremendously,” was how Whittaker’s lawyer, David LeBeouf, described the new opportunity to the Stockton newspaper, The Record.

LeBeouf is not only Whittaker’s lawyer; he’s also her business partner in the marijuana dispensary, and, according to The Record, her cousin.

In fact, serving in the Stockton City Attorney’s office and bringing lawsuits against it appears to be a family business for Whittaker’s clan. In 2007, another Whittaker cousin and former Stockton assistant city attorney, Michael Rishwain, filed a defamation claim against Nosky. Stockton officials called the charges “baseless,” but settled for $439,000 in a “business decision,” according to press reports at the time.

Nosky was Stockton City Attorney for six years, some during the tenure of Stockton’s “cowboy” City Manager Mark Lewis – a highly controversial personality with a long record of allegations of abuse of power, mismanagement, and an abrasive and confrontational style. Stockton fired Lewis in 2006 for spending money without Council approval.

No one can argue that Nosky wouldn’t bring valuable and needed expertise to Santa Clara. His role in Stockton’s stadium and arena development projects makes him well matched to Santa Clara’s needs. Further, his previous experience includes stints as Salinas City Attorney and Monterey county deputy counsel – in both cases apparently uncontroversial.

However, hiring him now risks opening an avenue for Stockton’s internecine conflicts to overflow into Santa Clara. If you doubt this, consider that anonymous correspondents we presume are Nosky’s enemies have already been busy corresponding with local journalists.

It’s willful blindness to suppose that Santa Clara’s critics won’t seize on this as evidence that the City Council is out-of-touch, and for suspicions that open meeting is a rubber stamp for the closed session meetings where the real business gets done.

Given that the stadium project will bring national attention to Santa Clara, making this hire now risks fanning a brushfire into something larger and more destructive. We think that Richard Nosky would make a fine candidate for City Attorney. We look forward to endorsing his appointment at a time when it – as well as a solid career in public service – won’t run the risk of being choked by toxic runoff from Stockton politics.

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