Stephen Cassidy describes himself a consumer attorney, but since he became Mayor of San Leandro he has spent more time breaking the law than arguing it in court. I have written before – and I have written to him – about some of the numerous Brown Act violations that the San Leandro City Council has committed under his leadership. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to have any plans to stop and indeed is now moving ahead into actions that the law considers misdemeanors.
At the last City Council meeting, Cassidy told Councilman Prola to ask John Chiang, the State Controller, to not force the City of San Leandro to return the properties it took from the Redevelopment Agency (RDA). Under the law that closed down the RDAs, Chiang must audit all the cities in California, and force those that engaged in those transfers, to give the properties back. If the City hears from Chiang before it sells the former Albertson property to David Irmer, it won’t be able to do so without opening it up for bids from other developers who may pay more.
It’s a misdemeanor for any public official to willingly fail to perform their legal duties, and anyone who advise sand encourages the commission of a crime, is himself guilty of that crime. It’s been a while since Mayor Cassidy finished law school, so he might not remember this, but he should at least realize that it’s unethical to ask Chiang to not do his job.
Cassidy is also set to commit another misdemeanor tonight. On its face, it’s a minor matter. The City Council will be considering in closed session whether they should file an amicus curiae brief on the Arizona vs. United States litigation at the Supreme Court. The State of Arizona passed a draconian immigration law a couple of years ago that empowered police to ascertain the immigration status of anyone they arrested, and kept people in jail until they were confirmed to be legal immigrants or citizens. It’s not clear to me whether the City will side with Arizona or the US government, but it is clear to me that San Leandro is not a party to this litigation. The Brown Act only allows the City Council to meet in closed session to discuss litigation to which it’s a party, and therefore the City Council, with Cassidy at its head, will be once again violating the Brown Act.
However, it’s likely that this time Cassidy et al will go beyond just violating the Act. While mere discussions of inappropriate matters in closed sessions do not impose much in the way of penalties on the City Council, each City Council member “who attends a meeting of that legislative body where action is taken in violation of any provision of [the Brown Act], and where the member intends to deprive the public of information to which the member knows or has reason to know the public is entitled under this chapter, is guilty of a misdemeanor.”. In other words, if the City Council decides to take any action with respect to the amicus, whether to file it or not, those City Council members present will be guilty of a misdemeanor. I have informed Mayor Cassidy et al about their obligations under the Brown Act, so any decisions they make to discuss this secretly will be done on purpose.
Now, I have no doubt that City Attorney Jane Williams has advised them that it’s OK for them to do whatever they want to do, that’s pretty much how she operates (thus the reason why the City keeps getting sued for millions of dollars), but they also have responsibilities as public officials to ask the right questions and think for themselves. Cassidy is a smart and trained as a lawyer, so he definitely can do it. As for the rest, if they can’t, if all they can do is sheepishly do as they’re told, maybe they should find other jobs. Ursula Reed and Jim Prola, who are both running for re-election this year, in particular should consider this alternative.
Finally, why commit criminal acts over something so silly? Sure, the chances of being prosecuted by the DA are probably pretty minimal (this time around, though surely the more complaints the DA gets about criminal violations, the more likely she’ll look into them), but still they do exist. I can only imagine that two things are at play here:
1) The City Attorney just loves secrecy and does not want any legal matters whatsoever to be discussed openly.
2) If the City Council decides to file a brief on this case, it will be unpopular with many people. Liberals and Latinos will cry out if the City sides with Arizona, while the old white voters (and their tea party offspring) will be up in arms if San Leandro sides with the US government. I can imagine that they rather just not deal with this.
Of course, I also imagine that costs are at issue here as well. Many amici briefs have been filed already, and I can’t imagine the City can come up with arguments not covered in any of those. More likely, Meyers Nave is planning on its own amicus as a way to get paid more legal fees. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were going with the same proposal to all of the cities they represent.