The Orange County Superior Court has issued a tentative ruling against the lawsuit filed by Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development (OCCORD) in an attempt to invalidate the economic assistance agreement (EAA) between the City of Anaheim and the GardenWalk hotels project.
The leftist activist group (which is funded largely by unions and progressive foundations) had hired liberal trial attorney Cory Briggs to file suit against the EAA approved by the city council in early 2013. The heart of the OCCORD/Briggs lawsuit were bizarre conspiracy theories and conflict-of-interest claims with no basis in law. The lawsuit also claimed the council-approved EAA violated the city charter because it wasn’t put out to bid (exactly how that could be done was left unanswered).
A tentative ruling issued earlier today by Judge David T. McEachen ruled against OCCORD’s claim the GardenWalk assistance agreement had to be put out to bid, and also against OCCORD’s absurd conflict-of-interest claims:
Nor has Plaintiff otherwise adequately pled a cognizable claim in its 1st Cause of action. An impermissible financial interest does not arise based only on votes favorable to campaign contributors: instead, there must be some financial or pecuniary benefit to the governmental official which could sway his or her judgment. (Breakzone Billiards v. City of Torrance (2000) 81 Cal.App.4th 1205, 1230.) Claims based on the assumption that accepting campaign contributions from persons interested in the EAAs created conflicts of interest for the recipients thus fail as a matter of law. The First causes of action claims as to Rutan & Tucker LLP’s involvement in negotiations also fail as pled, as the First Amended Complaint does not allege that such counsel “stood to gain or lose financially” based on same . (First Amended Complaint paragraph 12(B)9(i)-(iii); Quantification Settlement Agreement Cases (2011) 201 Cal.App.4th 758, 820.)
It also appears that Plaintiff has attempted to aggregate claims in a manner inconsistent with the CRL, such as donations made by spouses. (First Amended Complaint paragraph 12(a)(ii)(a); CRL Section 1.09.070.050.) Plaintiff argues in Opposition that its intent is to aggregate only for individuals and certain entities, but that is not evident from the First Amended Complaint, which is thus uncertain. Plaintiff’s quid pro quo claims, which appear to be premised on alleged “illegal” contributions are thus also uncertain. In addition, although circumstantial evidence may be sufficient to permit a finding of a section 1090 violation, the First Amended Complaint does not identify any alleged circumstantial evidence in support of those claims beyond the fact that contributions were made, which is insufficient. Those claims as pled thus fail to state a cognizable cause of action.
The OCCORD/Briggs case was a legal house of cards. Campaign contributions do not constitute a conflict-of-interest. Period. Litigating based on a claim with no basis in the law tends to diminish the prospect of courtroom victory.
As noted, this is a tentative ruling; a final ruling could come in the next few days. But it doesn’t look good for OCCORD and Briggs.
It’s worth noting that Briggs and one of his non-profit front groups, the Inland Oversight Committee, are teamed with CATER in suing to stop the financing package this is funding the Anaheim Convention Center expansion. Since Briggs is doing the legal heavy-lifting in that case, his humbling in this windmill tilt is even more reason for optimism the city will also prevail in the Convention Center litigation.