– Last summer’s
City Hall scandal
was assured of continuing into the new year when attorney Bruce
Tichinin and developer Howard Vierra announced plans Thursday to
file claims against the city for $3.4 million, alleging defamation
of character and severe loss of business.
Morgan Hill – Last summer’s “City Hall scandal” was assured of continuing into the new year when attorney Bruce Tichinin and developer Howard Vierra announced plans Thursday to file claims against the city for $3.4 million, alleging defamation of character and severe loss of business.
Tichinin said the claims are for monetary damages stemming from “an alleged illegal campaign of retaliation against Tichinin started by City Manager J. Edward Tewes and City Attorney Helene Leichter, and joined by Mayor Dennis Kennedy and City Council members Lawrence Carr, Steven Tate and Gregory Sellers,” according to copies of the claims.
Tichinin also asserted that the council violated his constitutional right to defend a client – Vierra – and defamed him by encouraging the state Bar Association and District Attorney to prosecute him on unstated criminal charges and ethical violations – all of which he denies – and accused him of extortion and Vierra of bribery.
No charges were ever filed. The council decided not to pursue the issue, Kennedy said.
Because City Hall was closed Thursday for the holidays, Tichinin said the claims would be filed Monday. If the claims are rejected by the council, Tichinin said he has six months to file a lawsuit seeking the damages.
While it is too early to tell what the city will do, Kennedy gave some indication of resistance.
“The city’s actions have been appropriate and we have followed the highest ethical standards,” Kennedy said Thursday afternoon. “The Tichinin/Vierra claim is without merit; if it gets to the court I am confident that the court will ultimately rule in the city’s favor.”
Tewes said he preferred to make no comment until, and if, the claim is filed. Sellers said he, too, would rather wait. Tate did not have a comment by press time. Leichter could not be reached.
Carr, echoing council’s past decision to let the matter drop, said he was sorry to hear about the claim.
“This is very unfortunate,” Carr said. “We were trying to get this behind us and move on.”
Tichinin said that he is more interested in healing his reputation and getting his business back than taking taxpayer money.
“Though the financial effect on my practice has been near catastrophic,” Tichinin said, “I am much more interested in clearing my name than in seeing City Hall’s misconduct cost the taxpayers more money. This is a necessary step to preserve my options.”
He estimates a loss of $2 million; Vierra $1.4 million.
The saga began when Councilwoman Hedy Chang believed Tewes and Leichter were having an affair – which they have strongly and consistently denied – and told Tichinin.
Meanwhile, in December 2003 Tichinin represented Ford dealer Scott Lynch of Gilroy in a lawsuit against the city, seeking to halt approval of a new Ford dealership on Condit Road. The dealership opened Sunday. Tichinin claims Tewes was angry with him over the lawsuit, which went through several appeals before the city prevailed.
Tewes later discovered that he was being followed by an unknown man on an out-of-town trip on city business to Huntington Beach. Worried, the council hired a private investigator to find out what was going on; he discovered that the man had been hired by Mark Bell, a private investigator.
Tichinin has acknowledged hiring Bell to find proof of the alleged affair.
All told, the city’s investigation has cost more than $200,000.
Vierra said Thursday that he only wants to build his houses.
“If I win the current lawsuit (a separate suit, now in Superior Court) for approval of my project, the bulk of the claim will go away,” Vierra said, in a statement provided by his attorney and confirmed by telephone, “but this is the risk to which the city attorney has put the public unnecessarily and wrongfully.”
Vierra’s claim of loss rests on the delay in receiving building allotments under the city’s growth control initiative, which he needs to build several houses on West Main Avenue, at the base of El Toro Mountain. Trouble arose from a misdrawn 1990 elevation line used by the general plan that determines where the 500-foot line was and included 185 acres that a subsequent, more technical line does not. The city’s open space policy forbids building above that line.
Vierra’s land crosses the 1990 line but not the more definite one. When city staff recommended that the City Council deny Vierra’s application for allotments, he hired Tichinin to appeal, saying city staff’s decision was based on misinformation, not the actual intent.
The council was unable to decide the land-use issue and has asked a Superior Court judge to do that for them. The case will begin Jan. 11.
“If we prevail then the city’s wrongdoing will have been shown,” Vierra said. “It’s just wrong.”
Vierra also claims his constitutional right to due process was violated and that the city manager’s “campaign of retribution” against Tichinin was detrimental to Vierra’s interest.