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Santa Clara City Attorney Sat on CVRA Lawsuit Settlement Offer That Likely Would Save City Millions

Five days after he received it, Santa Clara City Attorney Brian Doyle still hadn’t told the City Council about the $2.8 million settlement offer he received from plaintiffs in the 2018 California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) lawsuit judgment the City lost and was appealing.

Instead, he told the Council at its Dec. 15 meeting, “In terms of the closed session, no one has heard anything yet.” The only closed session item was the lawsuit.

In doing so, Doyle lost the City an opportunity to save more than $1 million that it will now have to pay for the $3.2 million 2018 award, interest and new legal fees that plaintiffs’ incurred because of the City’s appeal. San Jose Inside broke the story of the delay early Thursday morning. The offer was made a week before an appeals court hearing on the case, which the City also lost, and expired on Dec. 16 at 3 p.m.

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Doyle May Face Legal Ethics Problems

His delay in informing the Council may put Doyle in trouble with the State Bar.

“If the settlement offer was not communicated to Council, it appears Doyle violated the California Rules of Professional Conduct,” wrote attorney J. Byron Fleck in an email.  The rules state, “A lawyer shall promptly communicate to…[a] client… all amounts, terms, and conditions of any written offer of settlement made to the client in all other matters.”

Sanctions range from reproval to disbarment.

“It’s one matter to pursue the morally, legally and financially disastrous defense of the indefensible,” continued Fleck. “Doyle had repeatedly assured the Council that the City had a good chance of winning the appeal — as he had assured them of the City’s good prospects for winning the original case.

However, if the settlement offer was not communicated to the Council, as reported, he may have a pending issue with the State Bar. Obviously, this is very, very bad for the City and its residents.”

Doyle appears to know this because he said at the Dec. 8 meeting, “If the plaintiffs had made a settlement offer, I would be obligated to bring that into closed session.”

 

A Chronology of Obstruction

On Dec. 8 Councilmember Raj Chahal (District 2) asked that discussion of the CVRA case be put on the agenda for a closed session meeting.

Although Chahal didn’t say anything about withdrawing the appeal, Doyle told the Council that Councilmembers who had openly endorsed settling the case would open themselves to “common law”* conflict of interest if they acted to withdraw the appeal.

Doyle continued to argue that there was no reason for a closed session, at one point telling the Council he wouldn’t attend a closed meeting on the subject without having the subject and action pre-determined and publically announced.

It would be a serious ethical problem for him, Doyle said — “malpractice” — if he allowed them to set the closed session otherwise; even telling Councilmember Chahal that he, not the Council, controlled closed session agendas and accusing Chahal of ‘playing games

In the end, the closed session was scheduled for Dec. 15 — two days before the hearing and less than 24 hours before the offer expired.

However, as soon as the Dec. 15 meeting was called to order, a new delay emerged. Former Council candidate Bob O’Keefe informed the Council that the online agenda didn’t include information on how to get disability accommodation for attending meetings.

O’Keefe said that he noticed the omission while preparing his comments on a closed session item about the case.

A two-hour discussion followed about whether the meeting should be held at all, with Councilmember Kathy Watanabe proposing that the closed session be postponed until Wednesday — four hours after the settlement offer expired.

“It seems to me that someone has an interest in delaying discussion of the lawsuits,” said Councilmember Kevin Park. “I don’t think that’s in the best interest of the City.”

Doyle made no response and Mayor Lisa Gillmor stated that she understood the City Attorney to be saying that there were no time-sensitive matters.

Park disagreed. In addition to the fact that the court hearing was two days later, Park reported that the plaintiffs’ attorney, Robert Rubin, had contacted him.

“I was told this is time-sensitive,” Park said. “Knowing that there is new information out there, I think this issue needs to be discussed.”

“Why is the plaintiffs’ attorney contacting our Council when we’re about to go into closed session?” said Councilmember Kathy Watanabe. “Why doesn’t Robert Rubin contact our City Attorney?”

Doyle made no reply to that.

The Council subsequently voted 5-2 to hold the closed session, with and Councilmember Kathy Watanabe opposing.

Doyle didn’t respond to The Weekly’s request for a copy of Rubin’s offer letter, but details were confirmed by City Hall sources and the dates by Rubin himself.

 

*Black’s Law Dictionary defines common law as law resulting from judicial decisions instead of statutes and governing documents. Doyle didn’t state the judicial decisions ruling that elected officials have a conflicting interest if they take actions they promised while campaigning.

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7 Comments
  1. Davy L. 10 months ago
    Reply

    Whatever the State Bar decides, the city of Santa Clara needs a replacement for City Attorney Brian Doyle. I suggest paying off all the lawsuits, etc. Yes, this does put our city in a bit of a financial bind. Possibly, some of the funds could be recuperated by reducing the salaries of City Manager, Deanna Santana, and her recently hired friends. Also, by cutting back some salaries of our overpaid Police and Fire Departments. Perhaps delaying the “New Downtown” or City Hall improvements? As for Lisa Gillmor, her power has already been quickly overridden by our additional new Council Members, and in any case, she will be leaving her office soon within two more years.

  2. jbyronflecklaw@comcast.net 10 months ago
    Reply

    There is no complaint yet before the State Bar. One would reasonably expect that’s coming shortly.
    The chronology outlined, and in the record, is dispositive.
    Santa Clara’s City Attorney lied to Council and its residents who are now on the hook for $5MM+ but for Doyle’s lie to the Santa Clara City Council.
    If he’s not fired tomorrow, you have a very messed up/incompetent City Council.
    If this City Council can’t handle an easy one like this, you are, deservedly, the laughing stock of Silicon Valley.

    • Jean 10 months ago
      Reply

      Mr Fleck, I have left a question for you on another Santa Clara site but they do not normally publish my submissions. My question to you is, it seems likely that Mr Doyle would not be the only one that would have received or seen the settlement offer. As the attorney for the plaintiff, would they only send the letter to the city attorney or would they also cc the city manager and perhaps the mayor in a case such as this? If so, could there be repercussions for those that knew yet did not disclose that during that meeting when Mr Doyle did not speak up on his own?

    • CSC 10 months ago
      Reply

      A big thanks to Mr. Fleck for his opinion on the matter to the Silicon Valley Voice and his input above about an approach for the City of Santa Clara to take on behalf of its residence.

      Current city manager Deanna Santana and her longtime friends are pillaging city coffers for their own overly generous compensation while hanging residents and local businesses out to dry with wasteful litigation. A high amount of civil rights violations, the highest percentage of criminal cops in their ranks, and attempted denial of basic voting rights, residents need to focus on getting rid of Watanabe and Gillmor in 2022. This current council needs to fire Santana, Doyle, Sujata Reuter, and quickly amend the city’s charter to appoint a police chief, also getting rid of Patrick Nikolai. There are more lawsuits lined up in 2021 and 2022…residents of Santa Clara can’t sustain the high level of incompetence that Gillmor, Santana, Nikolai, Doyle and their lackeys have brought to employment with them.

  3. Davy L. 10 months ago
    Reply

    Jean, if what you surmise is true; then Lisa Gillmor and Deanna Santana both need to be severely censored and reprimanded by our Council Members. (Note to Angry Tom: It’s time for you to reset your Countdown Clock to November 2, 2022)

  4. jean 9 months ago
    Reply

    Why hasn’t the city said anything about this or about losing the appeal? Shouldn’t they have made a public statement by now? It is dishonest and lacks the transparency they like to brag about.

  5. J. Byron Fleck 9 months ago
    Reply

    In response to Jean’s query above. I strongly doubt Plaintiffs counsel Rubin would have sent his settlement offer to anyone outside (1) the City Attorneys office and (2) The City’s retained co counsel. (The latter (2) is important. Retained co counsel had professional duties to Council. If he knew of the offer and knew Doyle did not disclose the offer, well, that’s a very big deal).
    That means no cc’s to CM. Could have happened but unlikely. Just not the way it’s done. Again, this is why someone getting their hands on Rubin’s letter/email is so important. Oh to see the cc’s on the bottom of the transmittal! Proverbial smoking gun.
    That said, again, there is no current factual basis nor evidence that CM or any member of Council knew of settlement offer.

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