Judge Tentatively Rules in Favor of City in Alleged Campaign Violation Case

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Orange County Superior Court Judge James Crandall tentatively ruled in favor of the city of Newport Beach Wednesday in the case local lawyer Phil Greer filed on April 12 representing NB resident Martha Peyton. It alleges that Councilman Scott Peotter violated  the campaign contribution limit.

Greer explains in the suit that Mayor Marshall “Duffy” Duffield and his wife, Teresa, and Woody’s Wharf co-owner Greg Pappas had already reached their maximum donation limit, as indicated by the mid-2017 public record filings, when they contributed goods and services to a fundraiser event for Peotter on Dec. 6 at Pappas’ Balboa Peninsula restaurant and bar.

Pappas co-hosted the event, which included a “holiday harbor cruise” on Duffield’s “private yacht.”

Peotter’s financial filings omitted the costs associated with the event, like the value of the food and beverages, valet parking, room rental, fuel, fair market value of the cruise, and other in-kind contributions donated to the event.

Greer also alleges that Harp has a conflict of interest, because his “client,” the whole of City Council, includes Peotter and Duffield, who are part of the “Team Newport” majority.

Although Crandall disagreed in his tentative ruling.

“There is no duty whatsoever in the cited provisions of the Newport Beach Municipal Code to ‘declare a conflict,’” Crandall wrote, and that the city code “does not create a mandatory duty for the City Council to appoint a special attorney.”

Crandall found that “there is no actual controversy relating to the legal rights and duties of the respective parties as framed by the petition.”

Crandall wrote that he “struggled” with the motion by the city and Harp to disqualify Greer, filed after Councilman Jeff Herdman shared emails with Greer that referred to the case.

He ultimately denied the motion after they failed to submit enough evidence to convince him that the emails were shared without the consent of the city attorney or other counsel.

“That having been said, the court does not approve of the conduct of attorney Greer as established by the evidence,” Crandall wrote.

According to the Rules of Professional Conduct, Greer should have replied that he could not discuss the lawsuit with Herdman without city attorney approval. And if Herdman persisted, Greer should have excused himself.

Crandall added that he opposed some of the language used in Peyton’s opposition to the motion.

“Finally, the court actively discourages the type of ad hominin attacks, name calling, and rank speculation contained in the petitioner’s opposition,” Crandall concluded. “The respondent’s motion was in no way frivolous, and there is no requirement in Rule 2-100 that the matters discussed be privileged, or even confidential.”

Peyton can file an amended petition within 10 days. The tentative ruling will be carried over to when the hearing resumes on Thursday at 1:30 p.m.

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