If A City Attorney Gives Inaccurate Legal Advice, Should She Be Allowed to Resign or Should She be Fired?

Cristina Talley

Cristina Talley

At the November 13, 2012 Anaheim City Council meeting, the council wanted to form an ad hoc committee to oversee the city’s negotiations with the Angels regarding an extension on their lease. The council majority planned to name Councilmember Gail Eastman and Councilmember Kris Murray to the ad hoc committee as Mayor Tom Tait had previously claimed a potential conflict of interest because he owned property across from Angels Stadium and his engineering business operated out of a neighboring building.

This is where it gets interesting. In response to an inquiry about the Mayor’s conflict, the Anaheim City Council minutes report what happened next:

“At the request of the Mayor, the City Attorney reported that Mayor Tait had previously secured an advice letter from the Fair Political Practices Commission indicating … he would not have a conflict of interest under the Political Reform Act.”

It has been a couple of months since the city attorney made this interpretation of the FPPC conflict letter. The letter was never made available.

But just last week the FPPC letter was made public. The letter, addressed a question posed by the City Attorney, and this is what was asked:

“May Mayor Tait take part in decisions concerning the city-owned Angel Stadium property if he transfers his ownership interest in real property within 500 feet of the Angel Stadium property to his adult, non-dependent children and amends the lease relating to his leasehold interest in a portion of the same property to prohibit him from profiting from any sublease, assignment or transfer of that leasehold?”

So that was the question asked by the City Attorney about Mayor Tait’s conflicts. And here is the FPPC’s answer:

“By transferring his entire ownership interest in 2130 Orangewood LLC, Mayor Tait will no longer have a disqualifying economic interest in the two parcels of real property owned by that entity. However, Mayor Tait will still have an economic interest in the leasehold which will be directly involved in any governmental decisions involving Angel Stadium.”

“Mayor Tait may not make, participate in making, or influence the decisions unless he can (rebut 5 factors) and determine there is no reasonably foreseeable material financial effects on any other economic interest he may have.”

Apparently the city attorney felt she could interpret all of this as – “Mayor Tait has no conflict.”

(Read the FPPC conflict letter for yourself. You can get a copy of the advice letter from the FFPC. The file number of this advice letter is # A-12-063, dated May 22, 2012.)

It is clear that the city attorney did not to give accurate legal advice. But the real question is whether she should have been fired or allowed to resign for this breach?

The mayor and councilmembers rely on the City Attorney for expert legal advice. When he or she gives poor, unsound or incomplete advice, it is the mayor and councilmembers relying on it who bear the consequences, legal as well as to their reputations.

The gap between the City Attorney’s advice at the November 13 council meeting and the opinion in the FPPC letter raises the question of whether Mayor Tait, relying on this advice, has successfully been able to avoid a conflict on the Angels’ negotiations. The questions that need to be answered are:

1. Has Mayor Tait transferred the ownership of his property to his adult, non-dependent children in order to avoid the first conflict?

2. Has Mayor Tait taken the other steps to avoid the second tier of conflicts arising out of his leasehold interest?

3. And even if he has done all of these things, when did those actions take place? Since the conflict letter is dated May 22, 2012, presumably Mayor Tait did not implement the steps in the letter until after it was received and according to state law, the conflict persists until one year after the conflict is eliminated. So did Mayor Tait have a conflict at the November 13, 2012 when the Angels ad hoc committee was being formed?

23 comments

  1. I am going to pull up this FPPC letter and read the full response but it doesn’t sound like inaccurate legal advice to me. It sounds like Ms. Talley conducted personal legal work on behalf of Mayor Tait, received a FPPC response six months prior that was not shared with the full council, and then purposefully mislead the city council in its deliberations on November 13th impacting the outcome of that legislative action. Given these set of facts, why was she allowed to resign – this is blatant failure as the city attorney to represent the full city council and residents at large. I question whether this isn’t also a question for the State Bar?

  2. Question Matt – It looks to me like the FPPC either didn’t read the question thoroughly or I am misinterpreting it.

    Talley proposes, as part of the question, that what if Mayor Tait also “amends the lease relating to his leasehold interest in a portion of the same property to prohibit him from profiting from any sublease, assignment or transfer of that leasehold?”

    Wouldn’t that mean he wouldn’t have an economic interest per their response?

    “However, Mayor Tait will still have an economic interest in the leasehold which will be directly involved in any governmental decisions involving Angel Stadium.”

    What are the five factors mentioned? Also as to question #3, why does it matter since the ad hoc committee was never formed, correct?

    Jason

  3. AnaheimFirst – How did Talley conduct personal legal work for Mayor Tait? The question she asked was related to city business. Where do you come up with this nonsense?

  4. Question Matt – It looks to me like the FPPC either didn’t read the question thoroughly or I am misinterpreting it.

    Talley proposes, as part of the question, that what if Mayor Tait also “amends the lease relating to his leasehold interest in a portion of the same property to prohibit him from profiting from any sublease, assignment or transfer of that leasehold?”

    Wouldn’t that mean he wouldn’t have an economic interest per their response?

    “However, Mayor Tait will still have an economic interest in the leasehold which will be directly involved in any governmental decisions involving Angel Stadium.”

    What are the five factors mentioned? Also as to question #3, why does it matter since the ad hoc committee was never formed, correct?

    Jason

  5. Matt – I just read the e-mail and you purposely leave out segments to make your argument stronger. The letter states that if he does what Talley suggested he can participate. Which means Talley’s advice was sound.

    • Matthew Cunningham

      Honestly, Jason, I am beginning to wonder if you are blind or have some kind of reading disability. But I’ll repeat: I didn’t write this post. Try looking at the bylines once in a while, then direct your questions or comments at the author.

  6. This revelation of unethical behavior is damaging to both Talley and Tait. Why would Tait jeopardize his seat for mayor so foolishly? And why would Talley collaborate? Either incompetence or malicious intent – both of which betrays the public’s trust.

  7. Matt – I’m not going to direct questions to an anonymous blog contributor. Why do you allow folks to hide behind aliases while maligning the character of Talley and Tait. Did you even read this to double check the facts?

  8. Matthew Cunningham

    Jason, I’ve had the opportunity to sit down and read the post, and I think you are waaaay over-reacting.

    The character of neither Tom Tait nor Cristina Talley was maligned. It’s clear from the post that Mayor Tait was/is taking sincere steps to avoid any conflict, and the author didn’t suggest otherwise.

    It also seems pretty clear that Talley’s characterization of FPPC opinion, and the written opinion itself, are not consistent. The FPPC letter says he would not have a confict…if he were able to take specific steps regarding the leasehold.

    However, there is no “if” in Talley’s statement.

    If you’d take off your hyper-partisan glasses for a moment, you’d see that Anaheim Insider is raising the question of whether Talley is giving the Mayor reliable advice. That is an important question, for the Mayor’s sake. I hope she is right. But there seem to be grounds for questioning that.

    Given the way you flambe certain people, you should be the last person to act as if a public official’s decisions, opinions and actions cannot be criticized. No city attorney is infallible. It stands to reason Talley isn’t infallible.

    Mayor Tait has publicly stated his confidence in Talley’s judgment and expertise. A majority of his colleagues hold a very different opinion. Either way, it is vital that the city attorney not only provide sound and solid advice about what the law does and does not permit them to do, but that they all have confidence that their city attorney is doing just that (even if each of them at times disagree with those opinions).

    • It amazes me that Cyntha Ward and Jason Young will go to such lengths to protect a corrupt official. The crazy thing is….why? She knew she was busted and would probably need her own lawyer, hence she resigned. I encourage Cynthia Ward and Jason Young to both write a check to her defense fund, she will need it. Mayor Tait – like they say, when you lay down with dogs you get fleas. Sad you chose a legacy of riots in Anaheim and protection of corrupt city employees.

    • Can you read Matt? Talley states “May Mayor Tait take part in decisions concerning the city-owned Angel Stadium property if he transfers his ownership interest in real property . . . ” Do you see the “if”?

      Anaheim Insider is maligning Talley’s character by implying she doesn’t give good advice. You know this post is full of it and yet you allow to remain.

      • Matthew Cunningham

        Jason: criticizing an individual’s work performance is not an attack on character.

        For example, saying “Jason Young is not a very good videographer” is not the same as saying Jason Young lacks character. Someone can be a the highest character and be a lousy videographer, and vice versa.

  9. Well this is certainly very different from what the other bloggers would have people believe – but there’s no surprise there.

    Jason’s comments that the advice is legally sound is really off base…”if” the Mayor released his economic interest in the properties he WOULD still have to recuse himself for a year. Its the law.

    Talley’s advice was wrong or at the very least misleading and the taxpayers have to pay for the severance package. UGH!

    PS – I am surprised that transferring property to immediate family isn’t a conflict, I thought it was – even if they are grown and independent. You’re telling me he’d still act in the best interest of the City over his kids?

    • It’s shameful he would try to “get-around” the law by changing the name on his property deed, and put it in his son’s. Did he really think nobody would notice?

  10. Legal Twist – this entire article is worthless. The facts and timeline are wrong. Head over to so you can read the entire FPPC letter and see how Anaheim Insider left out significant wording.

    Negotiations with the Angels haven’t begun and by the time they do the year waiting period will be over. I can’t believe how manipulative and untruthful the writer of this article is.

    Did you even bother to call Mayor Tait Anaheim Insider?

    • Actually Read The Letter

      Jason Young, a bit of your own advice might be warranted here: read the letter. The FPPC lays out numerous requirements. Show me evidence that Tait complied with a single one of them. Talley didn’t (or couldn’t depending on the facts). Misrepresenting what the FPPC says to the remainder of the council is very serious. Show a little respect for that.

  11. City Hall Insider

    The Mayor has weighed in with the Angels already on the lease over the past year – making several points to them on what he is willing to accept as terms. He is already in direct violation of the FPPC guidance that Talley requested on his behalf – not to mention he affected the council’s agendized action by weighing in to mispresent the letter he received from the FPPC. I only hope there is a full blown investigation of both of their actions and debunk that her resignation was based on race.

  12. I read the letter and if he complied with what was asked of him the matter is resolved.

    Where is your proof City Hall Insider? Just more spin to make Tait look like a bad guy.

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