My column last week was about two private investigators who allegedly set up a Costa Mesa councilman for a fake DUI. The PIs worked for a police-union law firm that represented the local union, which was dismayed by the councilman's policies (e.g., pension reform, outsourcing) and hired the firm to provide surveillance of them.
Is this ugly story a case of two rogue investigators or does it say more about the nature of unions?
I believe the latter, although union defenders I heard from insist it's the former. New information — an affidavit filed by the Orange County district attorney in Superior Court last week — bolsters my argument. It details the degree to which the Costa Mesa Police Officers Association was involved in political "games."
The PIs are accused of placing a GPS device on one councilman's car, and reporting a DUI on another councilman even though he wasn't drunk. No one alleges the union wanted the investigators to break the law, but the affidavit says some union officials wanted the law firm and its "candidate researchers" to track and embarrass political foes.
In March 2012 the union even asked its members to increase its dues for such purposes. Although the board members "were hesitant" to explain the purpose of the hike to an inquisitive member, "they eventually stated that the increase was for (Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir) and was going to be used to go after politicians," according to the court filing.
A top union official first denied that tracking politicians was the purpose of the money, but then "later stated the candidate research included digging up dirt on councilmembers because he believed they were corrupt and breaking the law …."
After the ensuing bad publicity following the DUI incident, the Costa Mesa Police Officers Association denounced the law-firm's tactics and fired the firm. But according to the recent affidavit filed in court, the Costa Mesa police union continued to pay the law firm "after the firm was supposedly fired."
How contrite could union officials have been?
Also following the publicity, one of the investigators, Chris Lanzillo, issued a press release saying that he was on assignment at the bar in Costa Mesa and that he couldn't give details about the assignment. But the DA's filing reveals that Lanzillo and the other investigator, Scott Impola, "made plans to place a female operative into Costa Mesa City Council Member Gary Monahan's restaurant in order to observe unethical behavior on behalf of Gary Monahan that could potentially affect the outcome of the Costa Mesa City Council election in November of 2012."
The affidavit describes a woman with a low-cut blouse coming in and Impola texting Lanzillo that she's "hooking" Monahan.
Maybe they went "rogue."
But it all looks uglier in the context of one of the emails published in the affidavit in which a Costa Mesa Police Officers Association official wrote to other board members: "maybe we should think of informing" the law firm's managing partner that Councilmen Jim Righeimer and Stephen Mensinger "will be in Vegas soon. I'm sure they will be dealing with other 'developer' friends, maybe a Brown Act or two, and I think (Mensinger) is a doper and has moral issues. I could totally see him sniffing coke of (sic) a prostitute. Just a thought."
The law firm represented 120 police unions, including the Escondido Police Officers Association, but it disbanded amid a billing scandal. And it bragged about its "playbook," which taught unions how to get their way during contract negotiations. The affidavit includes a section on the playbook, given that Costa Mesa and its union were indeed involved in negotiations at the time of the DUI call.
Under its heading, "Let the Games Begin," the playbook offers police unions this advice: "Focus on an individual: Avoid spreading your energy. Focus on a city manager, councilperson, mayor or police chief and keep the pressure up until that person assures you his loyalty and then move on to the next victim." Yes, "victim."
In some ways, the allegations against Lanzillo and Impola are a sideshow. What does it say when police unions hire law firms that advise them to play these games that victimize their foes?