Paso Robles' tab for Lisa Solomon case rises to $330,000

Fees for legal work, investigation add $80,000 in costs on top of severance paid to police chief

tstrickland@thetribunenews.comApril 12, 2012 

Paso Robles Police Department Chief Lisa Solomon attends the City Council meeting Tuesday night.

DAVID MIDDLECAMP — dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

Paso Robles taxpayers have spent about $330,000 in handling the controversial allegations surrounding the city’s former police chief — including an approximately $9,000 investigation detailing findings that the public will never see.

In addition to the investigation, the city was billed or will be billed about $71,000 in legal fees, according to information The Tribune received through public records requests.

The costs are a result of the controversy and subsequent public attention focused on allegations against former police Chief Lisa Solomon for alleged inappropriate sexual contact with a former officer, as well as a civil lawsuit that named Solomon, the city and others alleging an illegal traffic-ticket quota.

On April 2, she was paid $250,000 to leave her job.

The charges come at a time when some city services — such as police protection, fire safety and road maintenance — have suffered amid reduced spending during the recession.

Most of Solomon’s payout — $230,500 — represented compensation for damage to her reputation, while the rest constituted her accrued vacation and other leave.

Legal fees

City attorney Iris Yang of Sacramento-based Best Best & Krieger LLP has charged or will charge the city about $71,000 for work associated with the Solomon scandal. Of that, about $30,000 is for reviewing and responding to nearly 70 requests for public records from Nov. 29 to March 29.

Yang bills the city $165 per hour.

Yang’s work related to the Solomon case included “any related or potentially related litigation matters,” records requests, Solomon’s separation agreement, the sexual harassment claim and the lawsuit on ticket quotas, as well as the consultations and meetings surrounding those items, City Manager Jim App said.

The record requests sent to the city by local media seeking information on the issues surrounding Solomon kept the city and its attorney particularly busy, App said.

Some requests required the City Attorney’s Office to comb through hundreds of emails in which Yang and five other lawyers had to redact personal information to protect details under confidentially laws.

The Tribune also requested information on any city staff overtime costs related to the Solomon issue, but Yang said no overtime — “or other costs that could be directly related” to the matter — was charged.

In addition, the investigation — the details of which will not be released by the city — cost the taxpayers nearly $9,083, according to city records.

Consulting costs

San Francisco attorney Debra Estrin was hired Nov. 30 as a consultant for $150 an hour plus expenses, according to her contract. She spent a total of 56 hours, including travel time, “on tasks as requested by the city attorney” between Nov. 30 and Feb. 17, according to the city. At $150 per hour, that totals $8,400.

Other expenses that Estrin incurred in December 2011 totaled nearly $683, including $70 for pens, binder clips and other supplies at Office Max, about $15 for three packages of coffee creamer at Scolari’s, about $126 for a room and valet parking at the Padre Hotel in Bakersfield and two charges totaling about $470 for a deluxe room at Hotel Cheval in Paso Robles, according to receipts.

Those receipts represent the only expenses Estrin had during her investigation, according to the city.

Paso Robles has repeatedly declined to confirm or deny that Estrin’s contract was related to any particular investigation, citing personnel laws.

But last month, several City Council members told The Tribune that they were briefed on Estrin’s investigation into the allegations against Solomon in a closed session March 6 called to discuss “potential litigation.” Councilman John Hamon at the time said the details of the incomplete investigation were not divulged during the briefing. Any details from the investigation have since not been made public.

The investigation was launched during the same month that former Paso Robles police Officer Brennan Lux filed the sexual harassment complaint with the city.

Under its policies, the city is obligated to investigate any complaints that it receives.

Money breakdown

Paso Robles has reduced spending since 2008 to address multimillion-dollar shortfalls in sales tax, property tax and other revenues. The cuts have been more than $7 million a year since 2009, affecting all city departments.

The approximately $331,000 in costs related to issues surrounding the former police chief comes from the city’s general fund, which is budgeted for $24.6 million in the fiscal year that ends June 30.

Some money may have to come from general fund reserves if the budget isn’t balanced by then, City Manager Jim App said. Paso Robles has about $10.1 million in general fund reserves.

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