Judge upholds ruling in Oceano services district lawsuit

A San Luis Obispo Superior Court judge has upheld a tentative ruling ordering the Oceano services district pay former board member Pamela Dean nearly $75,000 in attorney’s fees.

Judge Charles Crandall’s ruling comes five months after he found that the district board had illegally appointed Lori Angello to fill a vacancy on Feb. 10, 2010, in a 2-1 vote in which Dean dissented. Crandall did not order Angello to be removed from office.

Board members Mary Lucey and Jim Hill had voted in favor of Angello's appointment and Vern Dahl had recused himself, citing a possible conflict of interest because he has done business with Angello and her husband at their ATV rental business. Hill resigned from the board in March; Dahl is now a member of the Lucia Mar school district board.

Shortly after Angello’s appointment, the district’s former legal counsel, Alex Simas, wrote the board that he had erred in his advice to former General Manager Raffaele Montemurro on filling the vacancy, and that three affirmative votes were required to appoint Angello.

Dean then requested the board reconsider Angello’s appointment. Angello held that she was property seated. She ran unopposed for a seat in November and is now the board’s president.

Dean then filed a lawsuit against the district in March 2010, claiming Angello was illegally seated on the board.

“The core issue in this lawsuit was the board’s compliance with law in the appointment of a replacement member,” Crandall wrote in his ruling, dated June 23. “That important right was vindicated in the litigation, serving as future precedent and guidance not just for this board but for other community service districts and public agencies.”

Crandall did not order Angello to pay any of the attorney’s fees. “Because the award runs against a public agency, there is little risk of insolvency,” he wrote.