for Bonny Garcia
Attorneys cost over $1.1 million last fiscal year
By Chris Moran
San Diego Union Tribune, October 26, 2006
CHULA VISTA – South County's high school board has scrapped a $200-an-
hour contract with its main attorneys in favor of a $320,400-a-year deal
designed to rein in legal spending that topped $1.1 million in the year
ending June 30.
The Sweetwater Union High School District board renegotiated the contract
after The San Diego Union-Tribune reported in July that the district's legal
bills rose by 77 percent in one year. Burke, Williams and Sorensen, the
district's main law firm, billed the district $840,279 for the year that ended
The district used several other firms on a smaller scale, which accounted
for $300,000 more in legal costs...
The board voted 4-0 Monday night, with trustee Pearl Quiñones absent, to
approve the new contract. It caps normal legal services, but does not cover
what the agreement calls “extraordinary” matters, such as lawsuits and
hearings, labor negotiations and investigations of district employees.
There were at least two such investigations last year.
One targeted an employee suspected of conspiring with a contractor to
overcharge the district for paving. Another was of a principal who resigned
amid allegations that she stole from her middle school, including a
treadmill so large she built a room around it in her home.
Last year, the district also assumed the costs of defending and settling a
lawsuit filed by a former principal who contended she was demoted for
filing a sexual harassment complaint. Yet more legal bills mounted
because of construction-defect lawsuits as the district nears completion of
a building program of more than $300 million.
Under the old contract, the district's main attorney, Bonifacio Garcia, had
been billing the district for drive time and mileage from his Los Angeles
The district was being charged more than $1,100 per visit before Garcia
ever set foot in the district's Fifth Avenue headquarters in Chula Vista. He
routinely attends board meetings, though some other sizable local districts
have an attorney present at board meetings only when a legal issue is
identified ahead of time.
Sweetwater relied on Garcia for its recently completed 14-month search for
a superintendent, much more than other districts have used attorneys in
recent searches. In fact, the district was billed for nine hours of Garcia's
time on a day the board met with a former elementary school
superintendent who was never officially a candidate for the Sweetwater job.
The new contract is with Garcia Calderon Ruiz, which Garcia formed with
attorneys he took with him from Burke, Williams and Sorensen.
Attorney Bonifacio "Bonny" Garcia
$100,000 in 3
San Gabriel Valley Tribune
September 4, 2007
By Jennifer McLain, Staff Writer
...In Arvin, Garcia was fired
because of his high bills, city
officials said. Garcia's firm
represented the planning
commission from November to
"The city did a financial review of
their legal expenses, and based
on that decided to let the legal
firm Garcia, Calderon and Ruiz
go," Christensen said...
Arvin's financial records show that
for eight months of legal work to
oversee the planning
commission, Garcia's firm
charged nearly $50,000. Half of
those charges came from two
The flat fee charged by Arvin's
previous firm in 2005 was
$105,000 for city attorney and
representation. That included
attendance at two council
meetings per month. Garcia's
contract required the attendance
of one planning commission
meeting a month.
Arvin city officials said they are
also asking for a refund for work
performed by attorney Eva Plaza,
who charged a partner and
associate rate of $225 per hour.
She was not admitted to the
California State Bar until July...
The Kern County grand jury
alleges the Wasco City Council
violated the state's open meeting
law by deciding in secret to fire
the city attorney and replace the
firm with Garcia, Calderon and
The report states that since
Garcia was hired, "the city is
incurring substantial increases
in the cost of having a city
attorney. It is estimated that this
will cost four to five times more
than the previous city attorney."
Garcia denied the grand jury's
allegations. On behalf of the city,
Garcia responded, "The grand
jury's mistaken legal
conclusions could have been
avoided with a reasonable
amount of legal research and
According to Wasco's finance
records, Garcia's firm billed the
city $148,024 for six months
worth of work. In comparison,
the previous law firm billed the
city $34,178 for the previous six
months of work.
"He is not overcharging the city.
Some people say that his
contract rate is too high, but he
is charging the city what the
contract rate is," said Wasco
City Manager Ron Mittag...
Wasco Councilman Tilo Cortez
said he thinks Garcia is "screwing
"Bonny says you get what you pay
for," Cortez said. "But I don't see
what we are getting for the extra
money that we are paying him."
As a customer of Otay Water
District, one of the most corrupt
public entities in San Diego, I am
still paying for the huge bills that
Bonny Garcia charged for work
done BEFORE the Otay Water
District authorized him to do the
The Otay Water District
indemnified Garcia for his actions,
so when a customer sued Garcia,
I also had to pay Stutz, Artiano,
Shinoff & Holtz to defend him.
As city's legal fees rise,
By Jennifer McLain, Staff
ROSEMEAD - The decision to hire
two law firms for municipal work
is proving costly and confusing,
city officials said.
The law firm Garcia, Calderon and
Ruiz was hired in April to take over
as the city's and redevelopment
agency's attorney. But half of the
firm's work was taken away in
September when Burke, Williams
and Sorensen was hired to
represent the redevelopment
City officials said the move would
help reduce attorney's fees. But
since then, attorney's bills are
higher than in past years, and
officials can't agree on how to divvy
up the responsibilities.
"As of today, there still needs to be
more clarification," Mayor John Tran
Confusion remains on whether
Garcia's firm will be representing
the Planning Commission or if that
duty should be passed on to Burke,
Williams and Sorensen. The City
Council on Tuesday requested to
review both firms' contracts and to
discuss it at a future meeting.
The Planning Commission
handles issues related to land use,
and Burke, Williams and Sorensen
was hired to represent the city on
those matters. But Garcia's firm is
still representing the commission...
City Attorney Bonifacio Garcia has
charged the city nearly $164,000 for
five months of work, including an
August bill for $17,622, and a May
bill for $56,440.
Burke, Williams and Sorensen
charged $5,612 for the month of
"I've been disappointed in the
billing and the performance," Clark
said referring to Garcia's firm.
In the meantime, the city is also
paying its former law firm, Wallin,
Cress, Reisman and Kranitz, for
several cases it is handling. During
six months, the firm has charged
nearly $30,000, including $1,862 a
month for health insurance...
Garcia's high bills prompted the city
to place a cap on his contract,
limiting him to $30,000 a month...
Pasadena Star News,
November 26, 2007
School board names new law firm
By Sara Suddes
GILROY -- Trustees awarded the
school district's educational legal
services to the firm of Garcia
Calderon Ruiz, LLP of San Diego,
at the Dec. 6 school board meeting.
After interviewing five firms, out of
an original pool of nine, trustees
narrowed the candidates down to
two firms, Lozano Smith and
Garcia Calderon Ruiz. Trustees
Jaime Rosso and Denise Apuzzo
conducted reference checks for
They presented the information
they collected at the Dec. 6 board
meeting and the seven trustees
unanimously selected Garcia
Rosso contacted the chancellor for
the San Jose Evergreen
Community College District, Rosa
Perez, as a reference for Garcia
Calderon Ruiz. Perez rated them
highly and gave them a five out of
five rating on proficiency in special
However, Apuzzo pointed to the
Garcia Calderon Ruiz's "massive
overbilling in the Sweetwater case"
as a major concern. As the general
counsel for the Sweetwater Union
High School District in Chula Vista,
Garcia Calderon Ruiz charged the
district more than $1 million in
legal fees in one year.
The district reported that it spent
77 percent more on legal fees to
the firm than in the past fiscal year.
The San Diego Union-Tribune
reported in July 2006 that the
newspaper received invoices
documenting the district's legal
bills, but the description of the
services rendered were redacted
by order of the district's general
counsel, Garcia Calderon Ruiz,
and that no details were offered by
Apuzzo expressed her alarm for
the "outrageous costs" the firm
charged the Sweetwater district.
On the other hand, her review of
Lozano Smith's references turned
up no billing issues.
The firm has served the Morgan
Hill Unified School District for 16
"Lozano Smith is a whole lot
cheaper, comparing apples to
apples," Trustee Tom Bundros
said. "I'm leaning strongly toward
[Maura's note: Going to
Lozano Smith would be
leaping from the frying
pan into the fire. I
suggest hiring lawyers
who have represented
employees. They'll give
better advice, and be
less likely to ignore the
Superintendent Deborah Flores
will negotiate a contract with
Garcia Calderon Ruiz.
Gilroy Dispatch, December 13,
Garcia Calderon & Ruiz, LLP
Council decides on law firm
By Jennifer McLain
The city hired a new redevelopment
attorney on Tuesday, replacing the
lawyer it hired four months ago to fill
Law firm Burke, Williams
and Sorensen, which began
its public law career in
Montebello in 1938, beat
out four other firms vying
to represent the city's
Bonifacio Garcia, a former attorney
for Burke, Williams and Sorensen,
was hired in April to represent the
city and its redevelopment agency.
He remains as the city attorney...
The unanimous approval on
Tuesday for Burke, Williams and
Sorensen came after a failed
motion by Mayor John Tran and
Nunez to hire Alvarez-Glasman and
Alvarez-Glasman pulled papers
Aug. 3 to run for city treasurer, but
later said he decided not to run after
discussing it with his family...
Alvarez-Glasman, a former
Montebello City Councilman, has
also served as city attorney for
Baldwin Park, Montebello, South El
Monte and La Puente. However, his
contract was not renewed with
these cities after new council
majorities came aboard...
Among the firms, Alvarez-Glasman
was the only one to give campaign
contributions to existing council
members, according to campaign
finance records: $1,000 to Tran in
2004, and $1,000 to Councilwoman
Polly Low in 2007...
Tran, who just before voting for
Alvarez-Glasman, added, "$1,000
does not buy my vote, Maggie."
[Maura's comment: Talk is
cheap, Mr. Tran.]
Pasadena Star News, August 15,
Information on Selected California
Records do the talking
Whittier Daily News,
April 14, 2007
Big changes have come to
Montebello's city government, and
they're coming at a lightning pace.
But do they signal improvement, or
are they evidence for concern?
Recently, the City Council has fired
Community Development Director
Ruben Lopez, fire Chief Jim Cox,
City Attorney Marco Lopez and, just
last month, City Administrator
After serving 18 years, Torres wasn't
dismissed for cause, so the
council's impatience for "fresh
blood" and a "different direction" will
cost the city an estimated $200,000.
But of equal interest are the City
Council's new hires - Arnoldo
Beltran as city attorney and Randy
Narramore, Huntington Park's
former police chief, as interim city
We've seen this type of rapid
overhaul before. It often begins with
the marriage of elected officials to a
politically powerful attorney.
For example, South Gate's suffering
began with a change in its City
Council, which produced a new
three-vote majority that ceded power
to city treasurer Albert Robles.
Allied with city attorney Salvador
Alva, Robles brought in a new city
manager, with no experience, and a
new police chief. After plundering
$20 million from city coffers, Robles
was sentenced to 10 years in
Similarly, Huntington Park Mayor
Edward Escareno hired Francisco
Leal as city attorney. Later,
Escareno was charged with
misappropriation of public funds
and convicted of felony grand theft.
In Lynwood, longtime mayor Paul
Richards was sentenced to 16
years in prison for municipal
corruption, while Beltran, his city
attorney, continues in office.
Bell Gardens Councilwoman Maria
Chacon also partnered with Beltran,
creating an ordinance that allowed
Chacon to become city manager.
After the DA charged Chacon with
criminal conflict of interest for her
vote approving the ordinance, her
unsuccessful defense was that
Beltran advised her she could.
These incidents weren't entirely
Back in 1999, a Los Angeles Times
story included allegations that
Beltran and Leal had threatened to
launch recall campaigns against
councilmembers in Lynwood,
Commerce and Bell Gardens, if
they refused to award city attorney
contracts to their law firm.
L.A. Weekly reported that Jesse
Jauregui, former partner of Beltran
and Leal, said of his former
colleagues, "I'm glad to no longer
be a part of Tammany Hall-style
politics," a reference to Boss
Tweed's infamous New York
So, just what was in the minds of
Montebello councilmembers when
they voted to employ Beltran as city
attorney and Escareno's police chief
as interim city administrator?
Whatever the answer, it's hard to
gain comfort from reports that
Councilwoman Rosie Vasquez was
not concerned about Beltran's
qualifications or that Mayor Norma
Lopez-Reid had been "very
impressed" by Narramore, a
subject in several well-publicized
discrimination lawsuits filed against
the Huntington Park police
department by minority officers.
If nothing else, it's certainly a time
for the people of Montebello to
Richard P. McKee is past-president
of Californians Aware and a La
Huge legal fees dog
Cities fired Garcia
over bill excesses
Pasadena Star News,
September 4, 2007
By Jennifer McLain, Staff Writer
Concerns about legal fees trail
Rosemead's city attorney,
Officials at several cities have
complained about high bills,
questionable charges and lack of city
Garcia's firm, Garcia, Calderon and
Ruiz, represents Rosemead,
Wasco, Garvey School District and
served Arvin's planning
commission until the city fired the
attorneys in July...
Garcia is relatively new to the city
attorney's business. He spent the
past 11 years representing Garvey
School District. In his 26 years as a
lawyer, his first city attorney job was
in January for the city of Wasco,
which is near Bakersfield.
Garcia's lack of experience was the
cause for an increase in costs in
Arvin, Wasco and Rosemead,
In Rosemead, a May bill for $55,000
prompted the City Council on
Tuesday to place a $30,000 cap on
Garcia charged the city $100,000 the
past three months. That is nearly the
total charged for a year's worth of
the previous law firm, Wallin, Kress,
Reisman and Kranitz, according to
From 2000 to 2007, annual charges
from Wallin, Kress, Reisman and
Kranitz ranged from $137,583 to
$179,219, according to the city's
Rosemead City Council members
Gary Taylor and Margaret Clark said
Garcia performed work that should
be done by staff and that is another
reason why his bills were so high.
Garcia was originally hired to
redevelopment agency, city and
housing authority. Two weeks ago,
however, the council hired a
separate attorney to represent the
redevelopment agency and housing
authority. Now, Garcia only
represents the city.
Pasadena Star News
September 4, 2007
Information on Selected California
Attorney's bills prompt review
San Gabriel Valley Tribune,
August 10, 2007
By Jennifer McLain, Staff
The city attorney in May was paid
more than four times the average
monthly charge of the previous
attorney, the latest billing records
Bonifacio Garcia charged
Rosemead $55,000, though
information on what the money was
spent for was redacted from
records. He declined to give an
itemized description of the charges,
citing "attorney-client privilege."
"I cannot go into detail," Garcia said.
"It was $55,000 worth of work."
The city attorney was hired in April
after longtime City Attorney Peter
Wallin and the firm Wallin, Kress,
Reisman and Kranitz quit.
According to the records, Garcia's
law firm worked 222 hours in May,
and charged between $210 and
$225 per hour. Garcia also gets a
The invoice issued for May is the
most recently paid. Invoices for
June and July are not yet available.
Garcia charged the city nearly
$16,000 in April.
During 2005-06, Wallin, Kress,
Reisman and Kranitz charged
$170,579, or $14,149 monthly, for
their work as redevelopment
agency and city attorney...
City officials said they were
surprised at the high charge for May.
"I'm shocked that it's such a large
amount," said Councilwoman
Margaret Clark. "I plan to look into
where the money is going."
While Rosemead council members
have access to the description of
the 76 charges listed, Garcia
redacted the information from the
records the city released...
"To not justify that cost to the
taxpayers is patronizing," said Jim
Ewert, general counsel for the
California Newspaper Publishers
"There may be specific instances in
the itemized description where
there may be a greater public
interest in maintaining the
confidentiality of that information,"
Ewert said. "But it is hard for me to
believe that every single item has
Interim City Manager Oliver Chi
would only say that Garcia blocked
out this information because it was
"There is detailed information that
the city is engaged with, and
(Garcia) wanted to redact certain
information so that nothing
confidential would be made public,"
Monterey Park's deputy city attorney,
Adrian Guerra, said this is not an
"Generally, that type of information
is protected under the
attorney-client privilege," Guerra
[Maura's comment: Don't you
mean to say that public entity
lawyers frequently make this
bogus claim? The public has
a right to know how it's
money is spent.]
City officials would not comment on
the redaction of the information.
Instead, it was the cost that
prompted Clark to request the
council to review Garcia's
performance at Tuesday's council
Some Public Entities Represented by Bonny Garcia:
Otay Water District's
problems are costing
People entering Otay Water District board
meetings on Sweetwater Springs Road
should be issued a program. You can't
keep track of all the lawsuits and
grievances against the district without a
And at the meetings you won't hear about
all the district's legal problems involving
employee practices. Those are only
discussed in closed sessions regarding
litigation, which seem to be occurring
before every meeting these days.
Once upon a time, before the era of
trouble-making board member Jaime
Bonilla, the district had little or no legal
problems regarding employees. In fact,
the employees' association didn't even
collect dues because it never needed to
pay for legal representation or anything
else. Prior to Bonilla, the association had
never filed a grievance against district
management. Employees had a very
good relationship with management.
Now, all that has changed. There are
currently five separate lawsuits against
the district and a half-dozen grievances
that may turn into lawsuits. And the district
is spending millions in ratepayers' money
for outside legal counsel -- Burke,
Williams & Sorensen, LLP, of Los
Angeles -- mostly for representation on
these lawsuits and grievances.
Interestingly, it may have been the advice
of Otay's Los Angeles counsel that
ultimately led to some of the legal action.
Otay's former insurer, which canceled the
district's liability contract, is forced to
represent the district in some of the cases.
Here are thumbnails on some of the legal
action against Otay:
-- Long-time Otay legal counselor Tom
Harron was fired in 2001, shortly after
Bonilla took power, following secret
meetings and phone conversations
among Burke, Williams & Sorensen
attorneys and both Bonilla and Otay
General Manager Bob Griego. Those
secret meetings included talks about
Harron's employment. After Harron's
firing, Burke, Williams & Sorensen took
over as Otay's counsel. Harron is claiming
racial discrimination, defamation and
-- Former auditor Reuben Rodriguez is
suing for wrongful termination, saying
he was fired after he blew the whistle on
illegal charges to the district by Burke,
Williams & Sorensen.
-- Five employees, including some with
exemplary service records, have a case
that's before the Public Employee
Relations Board and a federal court.
These employees allege they were fired
without due process and because they
were involved in the employees
association. Otay settled most of the
PERB case, providing $500,000 and
stipulating that all five had been fired
improperly. A federal suit was filed for
denial of due process and racial
discrimination. Two people swore under
oath that Bonilla said he wanted to fire
one employee because she was
African-American -- he allegedly used a
racial epithet -- and another because she
was white. Burke, Williams & Sorensen
attorney Bonifacio Garcia denies all
allegations against Bonilla.
-- A false claims lawsuit has been brought
in state court by a ratepayer who says
Otay illegally paid Burke, Williams &
Sorensen for legal services to Bonilla,
Griego and the water district before
Bonilla was on the board and before the
board had voted to give the firm a contract.
This lawsuit is not against the district, but
against Griego, Bonilla and Burke,
Williams & Sorensen attorneys. Garcia
says he has retained counsel, but it's
uncertain who will be paying the bills. And
who will be paying the legal bills of Bonilla
and Griego? Otay ratepayers should
watch their wallets.
-- About a half dozen employee
grievances against the district also have
been filed for wrongful termination,
retaliation and other shoddy practices.
One recently became a lawsuit; others will
follow. These employees allege that
intimidation, harassment and unfair
treatment against anyone deemed
disloyal to Griego and Bonilla have
Recently, Otay Water District, through its
outside public relations firm, Marston &
Marston (paid $10,000 a month), has
been telling everybody that Otay's
problems are all in the past. They're not.
The district's worst problems are in the
future, when the bills will come due for all
the shenanigans that have been pulled by
Bonilla and company since the 2000
election. Ratepayers will be paying for this
mischief for years to come.
San Diego Union-Tribune, May 3, 2003
shenanigans at Otay
It's too early to know whether six former
Otay Water District employees were fired
due to discrimination, as they allege in a
recent federal lawsuit. They say they were
let go and replaced by Hispanic men who
were associates or former employees of
Otay board member Jaime Bonilla.
Bonilla is a wealthy radio station owner
who, during the 1980s, was the protege of
Baja Gov. Xico Leyva, who was ousted
from office for extreme corruption. Bonilla
bought his way onto the Otay board in
2000 by spending nearly $90,000 on his
campaign in a district where candidates
usually spent one-tenth that amount.
Today, he remains the power behind the
board and district management.
A judge and jury -- or a settlement -- will
decide the validity of the discrimination
claims. But the favoritism and shady
hiring practices of the Otay Water District
since Bonilla's election don't require a
legal hearing to uncover. They do,
however, require more ink and paper than
are available here, so we'll mention just a
few of them.
Shortly after he won in 2000, Bonilla
began bringing in cronies, including
Leopoldo Valencia. Valencia was once
the general manager of the Tijuana
Potros of the Mexican Pacific League, a
baseball team owned by Bonilla. In 1988,
Bonilla and Valencia were banned from
the league for life. Newspaper reports
said the charges against them were for
fixing games and for paying players in
excess of the league's salary cap.
Mateo Camarillo, a former business
partner of Bonilla's, was brought in for a
short time as acting general manager of
the water district. A board majority led by
Bonilla fired Otay attorney Tom Harron,
who was replaced by Bonafacio Garcia,
who had done legal work for Bonilla,
including, according to documents
obtained in an employee lawsuit,
providing legal advice on how to fire
Harron, cancel department heads'
contracts and lay off employees.
Garcia, as an outside counsel on retainer,
has charged the district nearly $2 million
in fees since he began working for Otay.
No other water district has incurred legal
bills anywhere near that amount.
Bonilla isn't the only person guilty of
favoritism at Otay. General Manager Bob
Griego, who is supported by the Bonilla
majority on the board, is the person who
actually hired Garcia. Garcia also is the
counsel for the Sweetwater Union High
School District, where Griego is a board
Griego just hired Manny Magana as Otay's
chief of engineering and water operations.
The two worked together for the city of
Whittier during the 1980s. Griego also
was a partner in a metal fabrication
company with his top lieutenant at Otay,
German Alvarez, and Griego gave Alvarez
a generous raise and even a car in his job
at Otay. After the outside business
partnership was revealed, Griego said he
and Alvarez would divest themselves of
their interests in the company. Griego
also has brought in Bill Jenkins to Otay,
first as a consultant and now as a
permanent employee. Jenkins helped
Griego to set up a Web site for Griego's
failed attempt to run for the Chula Vista
City Council last year.
There are many other serious problems
at this water district, but you get the
general idea. Currently, the Local Agency
Formation Commission, a state agency,
is conducting a review of Otay Water
District practices. We hope the LAFCO
review will turn up enough questions to
interest the county Grand Jury or District
Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. The beat goes
on at this out-of-the-way corner of local
government. We wish somebody would
San Diego Union-Tribune, March 19, 2003
Legal costs leaking funds from
Otay Water District;
But officials say troubles are over
by Anne Krueger, Staff Writer
From Bonny Garcia's website:
"Bonifacio Bonny Garcia is a founding partner of the Firm. He received his Juris Doctor degree from the
Harvard Law School in 1981, and his B.A. magna cum laude, from Loyola Marymount University in 1978...Mr.
Garcia is an expert on the Brown Act, municipal governance, California conflicts of interests and ethics
laws binding on elected officials, litigation and labor and employment matters. Mr. Garcia has particular
expertise counseling governments on strategic planning issues. His...reported cases include Hopper v. Los
Angeles Unified School District, 91 F.3d 1261 (1996)."
Conflict of interest
in school deal?
By Jennifer Mclain
ROSEMEAD — A deal that
appears to benefit the
and East Los
Angeles College also
raises questions about the
involvement of the mayor and
The city on Tuesday granted
permission to the Garvey School
District to use Dan T. Williams
Elementary School as a satellite
campus for ELAC.
The deal came after years of
negotiating, said Garvey school
board member Bob Bruesch.
It will help Garvey supplement a
$512,000 budget shortfall and
satisfies ELAC's demand for more
But questions surfaced over the
city's and school district's legal
representation as well as to a
possible $20,000 that Rosemead
Mayor John Tran will make from
Tran, who served on the Garvey
School Board until he left in 2005
to take a seat on the City Council,
is a Realtor and served as
negotiator between Garvey and
"There is nothing wrong with a
former trustee acting as a
negotiator," said Bob Stern,
president of the Center for
Governmental Studies, a
watchdog group. "But an attorney
can't represent two clients on the
same issue. He would have to
City Attorney Bonifacio Garcia's
firm, which represents the Garvey
School District, was expected to
provide legal counsel for the city's
planning commission meeting.
But shortly before the meeting,
City Manager Oliver Chi said he
called another attorney to
represent the city on that particular
issue. Garcia's firm dealt with the
rest of the agenda.
Joe Montes of Burke, Williams
and Sorensen was hired last
month to take Garcia's place as
the city's redevelopment agency
lawyer and to be the counsel to
the planning commission.
However, Montes was not
scheduled to start his new
position for another two weeks,
The potential for conflict of interest
could have been there, interim
Redevelopment Director Brian
Saeki said, but it was avoided by
having Montes serve as counsel
instead of Garcia's firm.
George Yin, the attorney from
Garcia, Calderon and Ruiz,
recused himself from the agenda
"George Yin made a statement
that he has never worked on the
project and never provided any
opinions on the subject to the (city)
staff," Saeki said. "But he did
recuse himself, and Joe Montes
stepped in and oversaw the
Bruesch said the only thing
Garcia's firm has done for Garvey
in the land deal is, "helping us
with dotting all of our 'I's' and
crossing all our our 'T's'."
When Garcia was hired in April,
council members questioned
whether it was a conflict of interest
for him to serve as counsel to
Garvey School District and the city.
The day that Garcia was hired,
Councilwoman Polly Low asked
him: "Is there a conflict of interest
for you to represent the city of
Rosemead as well as the Garvey
Garcia said there wasn't, and in
the event that there was an
overlapping issue, "we would step
back and .... advise that you bring
other counsel to handle your
relationship with the school
Residents also raised conflict-of-
interest questions about the
mayor's connection to the lease
Steven Ly, president of a
community group, Rosemead
Partners, said that he sent out a
letter to several hundred
neighbors informing them of the
possible change in use to
Williams School. He also noted
"We view what is going on as a
conflict of interest," Ly said. "(Tran)
will be profiting a large
Tran, who will receive up to 4
percent of the $500,000 deal, said
that he has been upfront with staff
and council members.
"This is another erroneous
attempt to mislead and deceive
the public once again," Tran said
of Rosemead Partners, formerly
known as Rosemead Guardians.
"The Rosemead Guardians
should be ashamed of
He also said that he plans on
recusing himself from the council
meeting if this comes.
Stern said as long as Tran doesn't
participate in the vote and doesn't
tell his colleagues how to vote, he
is within the law.
"I told everybody not to mention
ELAC in front of me," Tran said. "If
it gets approved, I will recuse
Though the mayor said the district
contacted him, Bruesch said that
Tran approached the district.
"He is a Realtor, and before he
went into politics, that is what he
did," Bruesch said. "When he said
he would negotiate the lease for
us it seemed logical because he
knew both parties and could work
through the issues."
San Gabriel Valley Tribune,
September 9, 2007
Otay Water District
SPRING VALLEY -- With legal expenses
of more than $500,000 this year, the Otay
Water District is still spending a lot more
for lawyers than other water districts in
But Otay officials say that much of their
legal bills now are for items that a water
district should be paying for: dealing with
contracts, advising the board or settling
with a homeowner when a pipe breaks.
Otay General Manager Mark Watton said
the legal budget was a marked
improvement from what he called "the
dark days" when the district was filled
with dissension and legal problems.
Those issues culminated
in 2004, when the district
spent $2.2 million in legal
Otay officials say they're now able to focus
on providing water to about 48,000
customers in a rapidly growing section of
southeastern San Diego County, instead
of worrying about infighting among board
members and lawsuits from fired
The water district serves southern El
Cajon, Rancho San Diego, Jamul, Spring
Valley, Bonita, eastern Chula Vista,
Eastlake and Otay Mesa...
At their meeting this week, board
members agreed to a yearlong contract
with the law firm of Garcia Calderon
Ruiz, which includes a retainer of
Yuri Calderon and
Aerobel Banuelos, the
district's attorneys, had
been with the law firm of
Burke Williams &
Sorensen, which has represented
the district since 2001. Burke Williams is
closing its San Diego office, and
Calderon and Banuelos, along with 13
other attorneys, are forming a new firm.
The law firm had been closely involved
with some of the controversies the water
district faced. Ruben Rodriguez, the
district's former auditor, claimed in a
lawsuit that he was fired in July 2001 after
he was told to investigate questionable
hirings and massive legal bills. A
Superior Court jury decided in favor of the
Tom Harron filed suit in 2001 after he
was fired as the district's attorney and
replaced with the Burke Williams firm.
Harron's lawsuit is still pending.
Another pending lawsuit was filed by six
employees who said they were fired in
early 2001 because of a scheme to have
them replaced by Latinos. The suit was
filed in San Diego County Superior Court
after it was dismissed in federal court.
The district also incurred legal expenses
to obtain a restraining order in May 2002
against then-board member Tony
Inocentes, prohibiting him from
harassing two other board members,
then-general manager Bob Griego and
The legal troubles caused
Otay's attorney fees to
swell to $1.3 million in
fiscal 2002, more than $1
million in 2003, and $2.2
million in 2004.
Watton said legal bills were starting to go
down. The district spent about $852,000
in 2005 and $577,000 this fiscal year.
He said actual legal expenses were
lower because the district had recovered
or expected to be reimbursed by its
insurance company for some legal
expenses. The district also received a
settlement of almost $1 million when it
successfully sued its first attorney in the
Rodriguez civil suit, claiming he wasn't
prepared for trial.
In contrast, other water districts of
comparable size pay much less for their
annual legal expenses. The Helix Water
District, with more than 54,000
customers, paid about $266,000 for legal
expenses last year, and $207,000 the
year before, General Manager Mark
The Padre Dam Municipal Water District,
with more than 23,800 customers, paid
about $157,000 in legal bills last year,
and $212,000 the year before.
Watton said Otay's legal bills were high in
part because the district was growing so
quickly. The number of customers is
predicted to nearly double within the next
15 years, he said, to about 80,000 a year.
Otay Water District's
legal costs by fiscal
year (July to June):
San Diego Union-Tribune, August 6,
All is not well at Otay
Board members of the Otay Water District
claim a recent state study shows that all
its problems are in the past, or, at least,
can be blamed on board members who
have since departed.
But that's simply not true. The district
continues to incur millions of dollars in
legal expenses, and will pay even more
attorney bills in the future, due to
ongoing managerial problems. And one
board member who has been the focus
of some of those problems, and
therefore some of the lawsuits, is still
on the board today -- Jaime Bonilla.
... The report noted that Otay has
experienced the highest employee
turnover rates and legal expenses of any
water agency in southern San Diego
County. It recommends that the district
improve its personnel practices, seeking
outside professional help to create a
better atmosphere between management
and employees. The report also urges
that Otay require training for its board
and management in the state's open
meeting law. The commission found
that some of the complaints about the
board and management are outside of
its purview, and so they have been
referred to the county grand jury,
district attorney and state Fair Political
Otay's continuing legal bills show that
much is still amiss. The LAFCO report
quotes Otay officials as claiming that a
spike in legal costs was due to past
problems, and that legal costs should
diminish now that those problems are in
the past. Those statements were
recorded no later than early 2003, and
probably in 2002.
However, a check register from the
Otay Water District last fall shows
nearly $1 million in fees paid for legal
services in a 50-day period. For a small
water district with a $36 million budget,
such legal bills are extreme and
eventually will hurt customer service if
And the district's biggest legal challenges
still lie ahead. Long-time Otay legal
counselor Tom Harron, now chief deputy
county counsel, has a pending lawsuit
against Otay and board member Jaime
Bonilla claiming racial discrimination,
defamation and wrongful termination. In a
federal lawsuit, six other former
employees allege discrimination,
wrongful termination and retaliation for
labor activities. That federal suit also
names Bonilla as a defendant. There's
another discrimination lawsuit pending by
an ex-employee and yet another one
waiting to be filed.
Otay's claim that all its problems are in
the past is belied by these lawsuits and
by the fact that Bonilla, who is named in
several suits, remains a powerful board
member. The water district is not only
paying legal fees for itself, but also for
Bonilla and other district officials named
The LAFCO study did not harshly criticize
the Otay Water District, because the study
was a service review, and Otay's water
service has not been seriously affected by
its management or legal problems -- yet.
But the Otay Water District is a public
agency and therefore must be held to
higher scrutiny than whether the water
flows. We hope the grand jury, district
attorney and Fair Political Practices
Commission will also take a hard look at
this troubled public agency.
San Diego Union-Tribune, January 22,
Otay Water District's
legal advice keeps
getting more expensive
In yet another example of the Otay Water
District's irresponsibility toward
ratepayers, board members have
agreed to pay the legal costs
for defending their own
outside attorneys in a
ratepayer's lawsuit against
Got that? Otay board members are paying
for attorneys to defend their attorneys.
They have no choice. At a November 2001
meeting, in a move that legal experts say
was highly unusual for a public agency,
board members voted to give the Los
Angeles law firm of Burke, Williams &
Sorensen blanket indemnity from any
legal action brought by anybody against
the firm for its advice or its actions on
behalf of the district.
Usually, when an outside law firm
represents a public agency, either the
firm indemnifies the agency against bad
legal advice or both sides agree that each
will be held harmless. But not at Otay.
Among a half dozen legal actions and
complaints pending against the district is
a false-claims lawsuit against board
member Jaime Bonilla, General Manager
Bob Griego, the firm of Burke, Williams &
Sorensen, and two Burke attorneys,
Bonifacio Garcia and Roberta Sistos.
The claim alleges Bonilla
directed Garcia and Sistos to
perform legal services for the
Otay Water District in
December 2000, months
before the water district
board had hired the law firm.
In fact, Bonilla himself hadn't
even been sworn in as a
board member when he
ordered the legal services to
Nonetheless, the law firm
submitted bills for more than
$32,000 for the months before
it had been hired, and Griego and
the board, led by Bonilla, paid the bills in
The false-claims lawsuit says that money
should be repaid to the water district, plus
damages and civil penalties.
Garcia and Sistos are closely linked to
Bonilla. On the first meeting after Bonilla
was sworn in, he helped engineer the
firing of the water district's in-house
counsel. Burke, Williams & Sorensen
was retained shortly thereafter. The
district has paid the law firm over $1
million and perhaps as much as $2
million over the past 2 1/2 years. Now,
the water district board is paying other
legal counsel to represent the law firm
and board members for actions taken
by the district on advice from Burke,
Williams & Sorensen.
Legal experts say the
indemnity given to Burke,
Williams & Sorensen by
the Otay Water District is
far from normal procedure
for public agencies. Most
lawyers would not ask to
be released from liability
for advice rendered to a
client. And why would any
client, especially a public
agency supported entirely
by ratepayer dollars,
agree to such a deal?
What kind of legal advice
is Otay receiving if its
attorneys won't stand
behind that advice
Garcia says the indemnity
clause is perfectly legal
and within the rules of
professional conduct. He
has a letter from
Escondido attorney Ellen
Peck, dated yesterday,
saying as much.
But Burke, Williams &
Sorensen does not have
the same indemnity
clause with its other
major South Bay client,
the Sweetwater Union
High School District.
Attorney Dan Shinoff,
who is now representing
Otay in the false-claims
lawsuit, said he has seen
such indemnity clauses
before. But when asked if
he had such indemnity
from the district for his
legal work, his answer
The indemnity clause could become
very costly to Otay ratepayers. The
turmoil at the district already has
produced a lot of legal action, and more
may be forthcoming. If Otay's pricey
outside attorneys are responsible for
giving legal advice that results in harm
to the district, ratepayers will foot the
bill. It's just more bad news from the
Otay Water District.
San Diego Union-Tribune, June 19, 2003
Rosemead council delays decision
on law firm
San Gabriel Valley Tribune,
July 19, 2007
By Jennifer McLain, Staff Writer
...Despite Rosemead Mayor John
Tran and Councilman John Nunez
saying they were prepared to
approve an attorney on Tuesday, the
council voted 3-2 to interview the five
law firms vying for the post...
With one of the five firms
represented at the meeting - partner
Arnold Alvarez-Glasman - Tran and
Nunez voted against interviewing all
of the firms.
"I'm ready to choose one," Tran said
at Tuesday's meeting, with Nunez
echoing his comments.
...The search comes three months
after the city hired Bonifacio "Bonny"
Garcia as city attorney to represent
Rosemead and its redevelopment
Garcia was brought on as lead
attorney on the suggestion of
Nunez. The council did not accept
any other bids for the position.
The council's decision in April drew
some criticism from the
community. Residents questioned
Garcia's billing practices and why
the council didn't put the contract
out to bid...
According to Garcia's resume, he "is
an expert on the (Ralph M.) Brown
Act, municipal governance,
California conflict of interests and
ethics laws binding on elected
officials, litigation and labor and
...The resume does not make
reference to redevelopment work.
Nunez recommended last month
that the council hire a separate
attorney to represent the
redevelopment agency to avoid
conflict of interest concerns, and
stated it did not reflect his opinion of
Garcia's work at the city.
"I didn't think it is appropriate to have
the same law firm handle
development and be the city
attorney," Nunez said previously...
Garcia's contract calls for a $5,000
monthly retainer for the attendance
of two regular city council and
planning commission meetings per
month. For the redevelopment
agency, there is no retainer...
City reviewing law firm proposals
Frank C. Girardot, Staff Writer
San Gabriel Valley Tribune, April 16, 2007
The City Council plans to review proposals from several law firms seeking to
represent the city in areas ranging from code enforcement to workers'
City officials are paging through 28 separate proposals covering four specific
areas of legal expertise...
In addition to City Attorney Arnold Alvarez-Glasman, West Covina uses the
services of at least five firms in litigation involving the city. The city is also
covered for some legal services by an insurance policy through the Joint
Powers Insurance Authority, City Manager Andrew Pasmant said. That policy
covers claims over $1 million, according to Debbie Domingues, the city's
safety and claims manager...
Among the firms submitting proposals to act as city prosecutor is Burke,
Williams and Sorensen. Rosemead's new city attorney, Bonifacio Garcia, a
former attorney with the firm, had his billings called into question last year.
The San Diego Union-Tribune learned he had billed the Sweetwater School
District in San Diego County for as much as 15.3 hours in a day, and
$131,708 between July 1, 2005 and the end of May 2006.
Garcia left Burke, Williams and Sorensen late last year and was recently
appointed to represent Rosemead. Other firms that submitted city prosecutor
proposals are Best, Best and Krieger; Burke; and Jones and Meyer.
Best, Best and Krieger would charge $185 per hour for their services. Burke,
Williams and Sorensen billing would be $225 per hour for the services of a
partner; $175 per hour for an associate; $150 per hour for a clerk; and $125
per hour for a paralegal.
Jones and Meyer, which currently represents the city, would charge a flat rate
of $160 per hour, according to their proposal.
Brown Act "expert" causes problems
with special meetings
[Maura Larkins' note: It seems that most lawyers who
advertise themselves as "Brown Act experts" are actually
offering the service of being able to help officials get away
with Brown Act violations.]
Town unhappy with report
Wasco citizens pack council meeting on grand jury statement
by Felix Doligosa, Jr., Californian staff writer
WASCO -- Residents yelled "the city is unhappy" in a packed City Council
meeting Tuesday night as discussion turned to a grand jury report that
accuses council members and the mayor of having too many 'special
"It's been quite a rocky two weeks and it's getting to a point where we need a
resolution," said Tilo Cortez Jr., vice mayor and council member for the city.
A grand jury report stated that the council has "far too many 'special meetings'"
that leave a perception the city does not want public input.
On Jan. 24, the mayor, Danny Espitia, and one or two council members met to
vote on the appointment of an assistant city manager, fire the city attorney and
hire a new law firm, according to the grand jury report. The meeting was
announced Jan. 23, according to the report.
The grand jury report also said Councilman and former Mayor Fred West Jr.
met with the former finance director to discuss his taking on the job as interim
city manager. An unsigned contract showed up on the former director's desk,
according to the grand jury.
The grand jury report recommends that the City Council get additional training
on the Ralph M. Brown Act. The state law allows very limited closed-door
meetings concerning public business, according to the report.
The report also recommended that Wasco residents get more involved in City
Council meetings, the council stop having special meetings unless it is an
emergency and that Espitia should stop voting until the city receives an opinion
from the Attorney General of California.
Espitia said he does not want to forward the report to the attorney general
because there are lies in it.
"The grand jury was misinformed," he said. "It's wrong. They never interviewed
The grand jury said in the report that it interviewed the mayor.
When Cortez asked if the report was telling the truth, Espitia replied, "So we
can agree the grand jury can make another mistake."
Dozens of citizens filled the seats and some stood in the aisles as they argued
with council members.
"This is just not right," said Wasco resident Susana Rios...
Garcia has made about $83,000 in four months as the city attorney, said
Councilwoman Cherylee Wegman. The grand jury report said Garcia makes
about four to five times more than the previous attorney.
Garcia said he would be happy to have an evaluation of his work another time.
"We have to talk about what's on the agenda," said Wegman who tried to direct
discussion toward the grand jury report. "It's the law."
After hearing pleas from the audience, the City Council voted to postpone
discussion of the alleged Brown Act violations and the hiring of Garcia until a
public meeting on July 3.
Bakersfield California, June 20, 2007
Mr. Garcia gained
notoriety in San
Diego while working
at Burke, Williams &
Sorenson for Otay
“The systematic redacting in over 1,000 pages of legal bills of
every single description of the services rendered can only
reflect a knee-jerk impulse for secrecy,” Scheer said. “It also
underscores how forgetful public officials are that this
information belongs to the public.”
Garcia himself billed the district as much as 15.3 hours in a
day, and $131,708 between July 1, 2005, and the end of May.
The district has not yet produced June's invoices.
Garcia's legal meter starts running hours before he sets foot in
the board room. In what Garcia terms “portal-to-portal” billing,
he begins charging Sweetwater $200 an hour for his time the
minute he leaves Los Angeles for a 2 ½-hour commute to Chula
Vista. He also charges for the drive back and $133.50 in
That means it costs Sweetwater more than $1,100 to have
Garcia at a board meeting, in addition to time he spends on
open-and closed-session deliberations.
The Sweetwater Union High
School District busted its legal
budget halfway through the
fiscal year that ended June 30.
Sweetwater reports it spent
more than $1 million on legal
services for the year, 77
percent more than in the past
fiscal year, with some
expenses for June yet to be
It's tough to tell why.
Through a public-records
request, The San Diego Union-
Tribune got invoices
documenting the district's legal
bills, but the descriptions of
services rendered were
redacted by order of the
district's general counsel,
Bonifacio Garcia, who is based
in Los Angeles.
With no detail of services, the
public can't know if an attorney
was working on a lawsuit,
advising a board member or
attending a board meeting.
Garcia said the billings are not
merely descriptions but status
reports on legal work, which
could reveal strategy to
opponents if they were made
available to the public.
That may be true in a few
instances, but most of the
information would not give
away any secrets, said Peter
Scheer, executive director of
the California First Amendment
“The systematic redacting in
over 1,000 pages of legal bills
of every single description of
the services rendered can only
reflect a knee-jerk impulse for
secrecy,” Scheer said. “It also
underscores how forgetful
public officials are that this
information belongs to the
Garcia himself billed the
district as much as 15.3 hours
in a day, and $131,708
between July 1, 2005, and the
end of May. The district has not
yet produced June's invoices.
Garcia's legal meter starts
running hours before he sets
foot in the board room. In what
Garcia terms “portal-to-portal”
billing, he begins charging
Sweetwater $200 an hour for
his time the minute he leaves
Los Angeles for a 2 ½-hour
commute to Chula Vista. He
also charges for the drive back
and $133.50 in mileage
That means it costs
Sweetwater more than $1,100
to have Garcia at a board
meeting, in addition to time he
spends on open-and closed-
When asked why he doesn't
dispatch a San Diego-based
attorney to the meetings,
Garcia said, “This is a business
that is a service business, and
it depends on who the client is
Nor does it mean he's the best
attorney of the bunch, he said,
but it's the choice of the board
to use an attorney with whom
it has a decade of experience.
“We're not widgets,” Garcia
said. “It's about the confidence
of the client in the counsel.”
Board President Greg Sandoval
said he believes Garcia can use
drive time to talk with
Sweetwater staff by phone.
But when asked why the board
doesn't use a San Diego-based
attorney to save on the $1,100-
per-meeting cost, he said, “I
guess we're going to have to
Months ago Garcia presented
district trustees with his
findings that Sweetwater's
legal bills are in line with those
of similar-sized districts in
However, the Sweetwater
school board appears to have
leaned more heavily on
attorneys than most other local
boards. Garcia attends every
Sweetwater board meeting,
joined the board for a series of
interviews with superintendent
candidates during spring and
sat in on a Saturday
exploratory conversation with
former Chula Vista Elementary
Superintendent Libby Gil that
Sandoval avoided calling a job
San Diego city schools has its
own attorneys, and one sits on
the dais with the board at
meetings. Sweetwater, with
42,000 seventh-through 12th-
graders, is the county's second-
largest school district, and it
contracts with several firms for
legal advice, as do other local
But the third-, fourth-and fifth-
largest local districts – Poway
Unified, Chula Vista Elementary
and Vista Unified – only have
an attorney present at board
meetings when a particularly
controversial issue is on the
agenda. The next-largest
district, Grossmont Union High,
has an attorney present at
every board meeting.
Garcia said he could not
comment on why he was at the
interviews during spring and
why he's not attending this
Spokeswomen for the
Oceanside and Poway districts
said attorneys were not
present at their boards'
interviews of the candidates
who now hold the
Sandoval said Garcia sat in on
interviews with four
Sweetwater finalists so he
could negotiate on the spot
with a candidate of the board's
choosing. On the day of a
special board meeting on
March 2, Garcia billed
Sweetwater $3,060 for 15.3
hours of work.
At that time, Sandoval said, the
board was negotiating with
superintendent of a much
smaller Fresno-area district.
But in mid-March the board
announced it was seeking new
candidates and never took a
vote on Monreal.
"Bonny Garcia has donated to the election
campaigns of trustees Jim Cartmill, Arlie Ricasa and
Sandoval. Campaign finance records show
donations of $1,000 to Ricasa in 2001-02, $1,000
to Sandoval in 2002 and $975 to Cartmill in 2002."
Sweetwater racks up
large, clouded legal bill
By Chris Moran
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
July 22, 2006
fees still high
looking to trim
Pasadena Star News,
September 22, 2007
By Jennifer McLain, Staff Writer
ROSEMEAD - City attorney fees
remain high despite shifts in billing
practices and the hiring of a new
Bonifacio Garcia of Garcia,
Calderon and Ruiz was hired in
April to represent Rosemead and
its redevelopment agency. In four
months, he has charged the city
nearly $137,000. This includes an
invoice dated Sept. 3 for $37,286,
and a $52,677 bill for work done in
Rosemead has budgeted legal
fees at $265,000 for the 2007-08
fiscal year. If Garcia's billing trend
continues, fees could cost the city
as much as $500,000 for one year,
starting from the attorney's hiring
Garcia did not return phone calls for
In part because of the high fees, the
City Council decided to cap Garcia's
monthly bill at $30,000, and as of
Sept. 1, a new law firm was taking
over duties for the redevelopment
But city officials now can't seem to
agree just where Garcia's
City Manager Oliver Chi said Burke,
Williams and Sorensen was hired
last month, replacing Garcia, to
represent the city on all land use,
housing and redevelopment issues.
"The planning commission handles
land-use related issues," Chi said.
But Garcia's firm has continued to
provide legal advice at the planning
commission meetings. His contract
required that he attend all planning
commission meetings. In a revised
contract, effective Sept. 1, that was
Mayor John Tran and Councilman
John Nunez said they intend for
Garcia to remain as attorney of the
"As far as I understand, he will
continue to represent the planning
commission," Nunez said. "The
redevelopment agency is separate
from the planning commission."
Joe Montes, an attorney from Burke,
Williams and Sorensen, will soon
be representing the city's planning
commission meetings, Chi said.
Montes did not return calls.
"We are in the process of
transferring all of the planning
commission related items to Joe
Montes," Chi said...
Councilwoman Margaret Clark said
she thinks Garcia is milking the
city's coffers. "I would like Burke,
Williams and Sorensen to take over
all of the attorney representation for
the city," Clark said. Now, "we would
be paying double for some of the
same research on the same
A May billing statement shows that
Garcia charged $7,478 for
preparation and attendance of two
planning commission meetings.
Clark believes that Garcia is being
"nitpicky" with his legal fees.
"Where is all the money going?"
Nunez attributes the fees to
changes in City Hall.
"There's a lot going on in the city,"
Nunez said. "I think the costs are
justified because he is doing a lot of
work that is over and above in the
last couple of months."
Rosemead's city attorney already
$43,000 over his budget
By Jennifer McLain, Staff Writer
ROSEMEAD - The city attorney is
over his legal budget by $43,000,
with six months remaining in the
billing cycle, records show.
Rosemead City Attorney Bonifacio
Garcia of Garcia, Calderon and
Ruiz has charged the city
$205,000 since July, the start of
the fiscal year. The legal budget
for the firm's services in 2007-08
is nearly $162,000.
Garcia did not return calls.
"That is outrageous," said
Councilwoman Margaret Clark. "If
we are overbudget, we are going
to dip into our reserves. This is
the wrong time to be
overspending on anything."
The City Council on Tuesday will
discuss Garcia's billing practices.
This is after some council
members last month questioned
why he had not submitted four
months' worth of bills.
Since Garcia was hired nearly one
year ago on the recommendation of
Councilman John Nunez, the
council has adjusted its policies
and taken steps to lower the city
attorney's bills, which reached as
much as $58,000 in November.
"I find that (Garcia) gives us great
and sound advice, but in terms of
cost, obviously I am very concerned
about the bills," said Mayor John
Tran. "I've asked staff to closely
monitor the bills."
Since Garcia was hired a year ago,
he has charged $323,785 for his
"There was one month where a bill
was $56,000," said Rosemead City
Manager Oliver Chi. "That type of
situation can't happen anymore."
The bills prompted the city to place
a $30,000 cap effective September
2007. The cap does does not
circumstances" such as litigation,
court proceedings or investigations.
Garcia's $205,000 in fees since
July include work on a pending
personnel lawsuit against the city,
and a city legal dispute against
Councilman Gary Taylor that was
referred to the grand jury.
"During the last few months," Chi
said, "we have taken on
extraordinary circumstances, and
there is an additional cost for those
Legal costs vary among San
Gabriel Valley cities.
In Baldwin Park, home to more
than 80,000 residents, city attorney
fees range between $10,000 and
$20,000 a month. Invoices show
the city spent about $17,000 in
November, $17,000 in October and
$12,000 in December for work
performed by former City Attorney
In South El Monte, which has
21,400 residents, city attorney fees
averaged $31,000 a month last
year, records show.
In Rosemead, a city of nearly
53,000, Garcia's bills average
$36,300 a month.
Officials said they expect to present
the council with a balanced budget,
but legal costs could be an
"At some point, if we exceed the
appropriated amount, a budget
amendment has to be executed,"
Chi said. "This is one of these
areas where we will have to bring
back some sort of budget
amendment to be able to continue
to pay for this service."
Pasadena Star News
April 4, 2008
Descriptions of services left off
CHULA VISTA – The Sweetwater Union
High School District busted its legal
budget halfway through the fiscal year
that ended June 30.
Sweetwater reports it spent more than
$1 million on legal services for the year,
77 percent more than in the past fiscal
year, with some expenses for June yet
to be logged.
Sweetwater's annual legal expenses:
2001-02 $ 495,267
2002-03 $ 451,425
2003-04 $ 639,494
2004-05 $ 603,919
2005-06* $ 1,070,863
Sweetwater's annual payments to
Burke, Williams and Sorensen:
2001-02 $ 104,357
2002-03 $ 102,760
2003-04 $ 442,441
2004-05 $ 521,304
2005-06* $ 778,481
* Not all accounts for 2005-06 have
been settled. Figures could increase.
Source: Sweetwater Union High School
San Diego Union-Tribune
July 22, 2006 See article at http://www.
(Sorry, the SDUT has broken this link.
See more HERE.)
When asked why he doesn't dispatch a San Diego-based attorney
to the meetings, Garcia said, “This is a business that is a service
business, and it depends on who the client is comfortable with.”
Nor does it mean he's the best attorney of the bunch, he said, but
it's the choice of the board to use an attorney with whom it has a
decade of experience.
“We're not widgets,” Garcia said. “It's about the confidence of the
client in the counsel.”
Board President Greg Sandoval said he believes Garcia can use
drive time to talk with Sweetwater staff by phone. But when asked
why the board doesn't use a San Diego-based attorney to save on
the $1,100-per-meeting cost, he said, “I guess we're going to have
to review that.”
Months ago Garcia presented district trustees with his findings that
Sweetwater's legal bills are in line with those of similar-sized
districts in Northern California.
However, the Sweetwater school board appears to have leaned
more heavily on attorneys than most other local boards. Garcia
attends every Sweetwater board meeting, joined the board for a
series of interviews with superintendent candidates during spring
and sat in on a Saturday exploratory conversation with former
Chula Vista Elementary Superintendent Libby Gil that Sandoval
avoided calling a job interview.
San Diego city schools has its own attorneys, and one sits on the
dais with the board at meetings. Sweetwater, with 42,000 seventh-
through 12th-graders, is the county's second-largest school
district, and it contracts with several firms for legal advice, as do
other local districts.
But the third-, fourth-and fifth-largest local districts – Poway
Unified, Chula Vista Elementary and Vista Unified – only have an
attorney present at board meetings when a particularly
controversial issue is on the agenda. The next-largest district,
Grossmont Union High, has an attorney present at every board
Garcia said he could not comment on why he was at the
superintendent candidate interviews during spring and why he's
not attending this week's interviews. Spokeswomen for the
Oceanside and Poway districts said attorneys were not present at
their boards' interviews of the candidates who now hold the
Sandoval said Garcia sat in on interviews with four Sweetwater
finalists so he could negotiate on the spot with a candidate of the
board's choosing. On the day of a special board meeting on March
2, Garcia billed Sweetwater $3,060 for 15.3 hours of work.
At that time, Sandoval said, the board was negotiating with
Anthony Monreal, superintendent of a much smaller Fresno-area
district. But in mid-March the board announced it was seeking new
candidates and never took a vote on Monreal.
In addition, Sweetwater was billed for 9.1 hours of Garcia's time on
the day the board spoke with Gil, who was never officially a
On Monday, the Sweetwater board is scheduled to consider
approving a contract with Garcia's new firm. He's leaving Burke,
Williams & Sorensen to form his own firm, Garcia Calderon Ruiz.
He's taking his team of Sweetwater attorneys with him.
He's also taking his clients. Southwestern College, San Ysidro
School District and Otay Water District, which also use Burke,
Williams & Sorensen, will consider making the same change at
upcoming board meetings. Those other agencies use San Diego-
based attorneys at their board meetings.
After doing some litigation for the district in the early 1990s, Garcia
was contracted to become the district's chief attorney in 1996.
Garcia was in Los Angeles even then, so he established a San
Diego office for local attorneys who could serve Sweetwater on
legal matters outside of direct work with the board.
Garcia has donated to the election campaigns of trustees Jim
Cartmill, Arlie Ricasa and Sandoval. Campaign finance records
show donations of $1,000 to Ricasa in 2001-02, $1,000 to
Sandoval in 2002 and $975 to Cartmill in 2002.
In separate interviews, Garcia and Dianne Russo, the district's
chief financial officer, said there are several reasons for the
increase in legal costs:
The investigation of an employee suspected of conspiring with a
paving contractor to overcharge the district for paving.
The investigation of a principal who resigned amid allegations that
she stole property from her school, including a treadmill so large
that she built a room around it in her Eastlake home.
The costs of defending and settling a lawsuit filed by a former
principal who contended she was demoted for filing a sexual
Construction defect lawsuits to correct substandard work among
the hundreds of millions of dollars of school building projects done
in recent years.
Garcia acknowledged that his time on the superintendent search
probably helped boost Sweetwater's legal bills above their
average. Billings to Burke, Williams & Sorensen were nearly
$800,000 this year, Russo said. That's up from $442,441 in 2003-
04 and $102,760 in 2002-03.
More about city governments and
Bonny Garcia wins Daily Transcript "Top Attorney 2010"
Top Attorneys 2010
The San Diego Daily Transcript does not evaluate the lawyers it chooses
as "Top Lawyers" of the year; there is no panel of experts making the
choice. Nor do all the lawyers in town participate in the vote. Instead, the
voters select themselves. To win, a lawyer has to get his pals to send in
ballots. (There is even a section for insurance lawyers.) The Daily
Transcript seems to be promoting itself by exploiting lawyers who feel the
need to promote themselves. The most highly regarded lawyers do not
seem to participate in this contest. ACLU head counsel David Blair-Loy
has exerted himself mightily for two years in a row to become one of the
many "winners" of this contest.
In addition, Sweetwater was
billed for 9.1 hours of Garcia's
time on the day the board
spoke with Gil, who was never
officially a candidate.
On Monday, the Sweetwater
board is scheduled to consider
approving a contract with
Garcia's new firm. He's leaving
Burke, Williams & Sorensen to
form his own firm, Garcia
Calderon Ruiz. He's taking his
team of Sweetwater attorneys
He's also taking his clients.
Southwestern College, San
Ysidro School District and Otay
Water District, which also use
Burke, Williams & Sorensen,
will consider making the same
change at upcoming board
meetings. Those other agencies
use San Diego-based attorneys
at their board meetings.
After doing some litigation for
the district in the early 1990s,
Garcia was contracted to
become the district's chief
attorney in 1996. Garcia was
in Los Angeles even then, so he
established a San Diego office
for local attorneys who could
serve Sweetwater on legal
matters outside of direct work
with the board.
GCR LLP Attorney [Bonny
Garcia] Appointed To
Catholic Charities of Los
Angeles Inc.’s Board of
January 26, 2011
GCR LLP founding partner Bonifacio
Bonny Garcia has been appointed to
the board of trustees for Catholic
Charities of Los Angeles Inc.
The board of trustees is the
governing body for the organization
and holds meetings five times a
year. Garcia’s term on the board will
run through December 31, 2012.
Catholic Charities has a long history
of serving the poor and providing
the basic necessities of life to Los
Angeles residents. As an education
attorney, working with Catholic
Charities is a natural fit for Garcia.
“I wanted to be on the board of
Catholic Charities because of the
work they have done to support
members of the Los Angeles
community with programs such as
youth employment, affordable
before-and-after-school care and
pre-school for low-income children,”
said Garcia. “The organization has
achieved enduring success because
it focuses on making positive, long-
term change. By presenting the
community with the needed
resource, Catholic Charities has
helped many people transform their
Garcia also serves on the board of
trustees for Marymount College and
the board of directors for the
Advancement Project and Opus
Education Attorney Eran
Bermudez Joins GCR
July 21, 2011 — Eran Bermudez, an
education, public agency and labor
attorney, joins GCR LLP as a senior
associate in the firm’s San Diego
Bonifacio Bonny Garcia
equity partner and founder
• 213/347-0210 •
Bonifacio Bonny Garcia is a
founding partner of GCR LLP.
Although he heads the firm's Los
Angeles office, Garcia represents
clients throughout the state of
California. Garcia has extensive
experience representing school
districts, community college districts,
cities and other governmental
Garcia began his legal career as a
commercial litigator and spent more
than 12 years handling real estate
and complex litigation matters. He
currently serves as general counsel
to the Sweetwater Union High School
District and the Garvey School
District. Garcia also serves as a
chief labor negotiator for school
districts throughout California.
School and municipal governance
and administration, California’s
Ralph M. Brown Act, labor
negotiations and employment
matters, California conflicts of
interests and ethics laws binding on
elected officials, complex civil
litigation and counseling
governments on strategic planning
Harvard Law School.
--from GCR website, downloaded
Aug. 31, 2011
Bonny Garcia and Yuri Caleron sued by former GCR partner Rogelio
M. Ruiz for campaign donations
Calexico Unified School District's Similarities with Sweetwater
San Diego Reader
Jan. 16, 2012
A tipster recently brought to the Reader’s attention the fact that Calexico Unified School District is
beginning to look like Sweetwater Union High School District.
To begin with, Calexico’s district counsel is GCR, LLP, the attorney firm that recently was
suspended by Sweetwater’s interim superintendent Ed Brand. The firm used to include Bonifacio
Garcia, Yuri Calderon, and Rogelio Ruiz. However, Ruiz is now suing his former partners
for, among other things, “making thousands of dollars in political contributions to
favored political candidates in an effort to influence government officials…,” according to court
papers filed in Santa Clara County in April of 2011.
Yuri Calderon of GCR was hired as Calexico district council in January 2011. Shortly after GCR
was hired, Eric Hall and Associates was hired by the district to work as a financial consultant.
Hall & Associates was also recently contracted by Sweetwater Union to conduct an audit of
Proposition O funds and came under fire for using David Randolph to conduct the audit.
Randolph had worked with Seville Group, Inc., the suspended Proposition O bond program
Bond money caused problems in Calexico as well. In 2004, Calexico's Measure J, a $30 million
construction bond, was passed. A 2010-2011 Imperial County Civil Grand Jury stated that they
had “uncovered irregularities” in Measure J spending.
In a January 16 interview, Diana Harvey, a Calexico teacher, said, “In April of last year, Calexico
Unified began an audit into Measure J spending. But on October 27, before the results of the
audit were even made available to the public, a new bond proposal was brought before the board
which named Calderon and Hall as those responsible for the bond.”
Board minutes from October 27 indicate that Calderon advised the board, “The proposed bond
would consolidate both bonds and any costs incurred would be borne by the bond funds, and
there would be no cost to the District if the bond was not approved by the community.”
The board voted down consideration of the bond measure. However, on December 14, 2010, the
Imperial Valley Press reported that “Calexico Unified School District directed its superintendent to
find an accounting firm outside the community to conduct a forensic audit of Measure J funds as
well as to ask the District Attorney's Office to review implications of fraud related to the misuse of
Measure J funds.”
On January 12, 2012, the Calexico board voted down trustee Joong S. Kim’s resolution
to terminate the services of GCR. In the same board meeting they voted to censure Kim
for “unprofessional behavior.”
[Maura Larkins' comment: Mr. Kim didn't know that the law doesn't rule in schools; school boards
do whatever they want, and the lawyers to whom they've channeled large amounts of tax dollars
protect them. On the other hand, 110 out of 111 districts nationwide gave bond management
jobs to donors to board members' campaigns.]
Yuri Calderon is closely tied to the unfolding Sweetwater/Southwestern saga. Calderon
was treasurer for a political action committee that operated out of Garcia’s office. The
committee, called Citizens for Good Government in the South Bay, was a political action
committee that made generous contributions to Sweetwater and Southwestern
|San Diego Education Report