City Hall Confidential
The City of Alameda has requested a protective order against attorneys representing former Alameda Point developer SunCal, claiming the developer’s lawyers are abusing the deposition process in their public records lawsuit against the city in order to intimidate city staffers and fish for evidence for use in their $100 million federal case against the city. The city’s legal representative, David Newdorf, claimed in a December 14 filing in Alameda County Superior Court that SunCal’s legal team is engaging in “aggressive, argumentative, abusive, irrelevant, and burdensome deposition questions.”
The protective order includes nearly 100 pages of deposition records in which SunCal’s lawyers ask virtually the same question over and over and over again: “How can we get a hold of old city e-mails?”
During depositions of Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant, City Clerk Lara Weisiger and then-Mayor Beverly Johnson that were ostensibly conducted for the public records case, Newdorf repeatedly objected to questions that he said were more relevant to SunCal’s federal breach of contract suit or constituted efforts to intimidate the three, deposition transcripts show.
SunCal’s attorneys asked the trio where they could find e-mails relating to purported relationships between Johnson, Gallant and developer Ron Cowan and others related to their speculation that Cowan was being offered the Point project, and also speculation that there was a relationship between the Chamber of Commerce’s endorsement against SunCal’s Measure B and money the chamber received from the city.
The superior court will hear the issue on February 4.
Baines is back
Longtime administrative staffer Christina Baines is back on the job after being placed on administrative leave along with City Attorney Teresa Highsmith and Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant, for whom Baines worked. Sources told City Hall Confidential that the administrative leave occurred while Baines was on vacation, and that she did not miss a day of work.
The issue had nothing to do with Baines’ job performance, sources told us: She was placed on leave so her computer login could be temporarily disabled, protecting her from being put in the position of being asked by her boss to access information on her behalf, sources said.
Mayor Marie Gilmore delivered the leave news to Baines personally, a move Gilmore’s detractors called an abuse of power because the city manager oversees city employees, not the mayor or council. However, the decision was apparently made by Acting City Manager Lisa Goldman before Gilmore made the call.
Goldman wouldn’t comment on the issue because it is a personnel matter, though she confirmed Baines was back on the job after her vacation, as planned, Monday morning.
On December 8, the law firm City Attorney Teresa Highsmith chose to conduct a leaks investigation against City Councilwoman Lena Tam resigned as the city’s special counsel. The firm, Colantuono & Levin, had provided legal services to Alameda since 2002.
“It seems to us that our ability to be effective for the City is no longer what it was and that it is in the City’s interests and ours that we end our service to you,” Michael Colantuono wrote in a letter to Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant.
The letter preceded a December 20 City Council meeting in the City of Barstow where Highsmith was presented as that city’s new interim city attorney, a job she will hold through Barstow’s contract with Colantuono’s firm.
Barstow’s news outlets have reported that the Barstow City Council was unaware that Highsmith was still employed as Alameda’s city attorney. Alameda’s City Council voted unanimously on December 28 to put Highsmith on leave, but she hasn’t been fired, retired or resigned from her local post.