California Mayor Who Proposed Pension Reforms Says Police Tracked and Intimidated Him

Police union's law firm will pay $600K to a former mayor of Costa Mesa who says police used a "playbook" of nasty tactics to target him.


The recent announcement that a now-defunct law firm will pay $600,000 to a former Costa Mesa mayor and a current councilman and his wife puts to bed an ugly chapter in that Orange County city's recent history.

Nevertheless, it would be wrong to ignore the deeper statewide lessons from that controversy, which also spotlights the aggressive "playbook" that some police officials had used to muscle political opponents into submission.

The settlement came in a lawsuit filed in 2013 by former Mayor Steve Mensinger and Councilman Jim Righeimer and his wife, Lene, against Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir, an Upland firm that once represented 120 police unions across California and, according to prosecutors, was hired by the Costa Mesa Police Officers Association to do "candidate research."

In 2012, the council majority (Mensinger, Righeimer and Gary Monahan) had proposed a slate of fiscal reforms that included outsourcing some public services and reforming the pension system. The city then became Ground Zero for a statewide battle over unfunded pension liabilities, and the ensuing political fracas turned that year's council elections into an unusually heated affair given the animosity between union activists and the reformers.

Bitter political and election disputes are par for the course, but here's where it turned nasty. After a City Council meeting concluded, Righeimer headed to Monahan's restaurant and bar, where he drank a couple of diet sodas and went home. Shortly after going inside his house, Righeimer said that he received a knock on the door from a Costa Mesa police officer, who asked him to step outside and submit to a sobriety test.

He wasn't drunk, so he wasn't detained, but the lawsuit—and Orange County prosecutors—alleged that an investigator working for the law firm had called in a fake DUI report as an apparent means to embarrass Righeimer. Prosecutors also alleged that one of the investigators placed a GPS tracking device on Mensinger's SUV while it was parked at his house, so they could track his movements during the council campaign. "I'm in shock," Mensinger told the Orange County Register at the time. "This is like a (John) Grisham novel." Indeed.

A lot has happened since then. As the Orange County District Attorney's Office explained, one of the investigators, Chris Lanzillo, "pleaded guilty…to two felony counts of conspiracy to commit a crime of unlawful use of electronic tracking device, one felony count of false imprisonment by deceit, and one felony count of conspiracy to commit a crime of falsely reporting crime to an agency." He was sentenced to 364 days in jail and three years' probation. A second investigator, Scott Impola, died of natural causes while waiting for trial.

The law firm was closed following the revelations and other scandals, including allegations that the firm overbilled the Peace Officers Research Association of California for a legal-defense fund it runs to pay for the expenses of officers charged with wrongdoing. (Talk about ironies.)

Sure, the law firm denies any guilt and described the lawsuit as "absurd political theater that has characterized this case and its baseless allegations from the beginning." The police union, which also was sued by the Costa Mesa officials, described itself as a victim and said that the $7,500 it is reported to pay would come from the law firm, not the union. The union says it "did not have knowledge of the private investigator and did not direct or influence the private investigator."

But justice seems to have been served. "Instead of continuing the litigation, at the expense of our families and the public, we have made the decision to put this saga behind us so we can all get back to business," Mensinger said. Righeimer emphasized the importance of standing up to bullies. But even though the former firm – and its insurance company – paid up, we ought to ask whether the most fundamental issues have been addressed.

Everyone seems to know that it's wrong to use Grisham-type tactics. But the more relevant part of this sordid story relates to "The Playbook," which was the law firm's manual for conducting police negotiations and had been posted on the firm's website. Until the Costa Mesa fracas and reporting on the manual, there wasn't any groundswell from police unions or prominent police officials publicly objecting to what the manual detailed.

The playbook had encouraged work slowdowns and even called for the use of the "blue flu" (having police officers call in sick) in some instances. The now-removed manual said unions "should be like a quiet giant in the position of 'do as I ask and don't [expletive] me off.'" They likewise were encouraged to "keep the pressure up until that person assures you his loyalty and then move on to the next victim" and to scare the public about crime problems.

Punishing bad behavior is great, but shouldn't these broader political tactics be subject to closer scrutiny?

*Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. He was a Register editorial writer from 1998-2009. Write to him at This column was first published by the Orange County Register.

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  1. “Shortly after going inside his house, Righeimer said that he received a knock on the door from a Costa Mesa police officer, who asked him to step outside and submit to a sobriety test.”

    Hey Copper-Dude-Sir… With all due respect, your breath test is going to be worth diddly squat, I may have just downed a quart of whiskey in the few minutes AFTER I just got home. So go get a warrant, and waste your time, and the taxpayer’s money!

    1. That was my thinking, but innocence is no protection from law enforcement in many cases. If the goal is optics and a media story, even more so. But suppose the cop had charged him: is there a scratching your nuts [at home] while intoxicated statute? I’m not sure he should have even stepped outside – it may not have been a DUI, but they could hassle him for public intoxication.

      1. What do you think would have happened if he had refused to step outside? Cops get angry when they are not obeyed, regardless of if their request/command is lawful. In their minds, whatever they say is lawful. And in practice it’s true, because they’ve got a better chance of getting struck by lightening on a sunny day than facing consequences for their actions.
        Don’t step outside? You’ll get dragged outside.
        Don’t consent to a search? You’re going to get searched.
        They do what they want, and you do what they say. Or else.

        1. I refuse all the time. The cops walk away.

          If its a traffic stop and they ask to search. I ask if they have a warrant. They call for a k-9 dog. I ask if they are finished with the citation or are holding me to wait for the K-9 in violation of the 4th Amendment. They hand my drivers license back and let me go.

          If you know your rights, whip out a pocket Constitution, or a constitutional rights card the cops know they are outmatched and typically back down.

          1. My life is boring. I have NEVER had a cop ask to search my car in a traffic stop. I must just exude “boring white male.” Which is sad because I got pulled over all the time when I was 17 and didn’t think I was boring.

            *knock on wood*

          2. I think the K-9 dogs are a sham anyway. I know 2 people who declined a search only to have the police call for a K-9. Both times “The dog alerted” but the police didn’t find any contraband. I don’t know any statistics on this but I have a feeling it happens a lot.

            1. A study from Australia puts their correct alert rate at under 50%… in fact it puts it at 20%. A coin flip is more accurate.


            2. Only a highly educated judge, with the wisdom that comes from years of experience, can determine when probable cause exists.
              Or a dog.

            3. Same with me when they got the K-9 there before the other cop was done writing the ticket.

              They are always so disappointed when searching after the dog ‘hits’.

              The dog doesn’t ‘hit’ and there is no accountability or stats to punish officers who lie like that.

            4. Oh the drug dogs (and gun and money dogs, and they all exist) DO alert when they smell that which they are trained to identify. But the disgusting bit is nearly every dog’s handler ALSO trains the dog to alert upon command.. usually a subtle non-verbal prompt. This practice is SO dirty but nearly impossible to prove. Its all part of the game of dirty pool so many LE play continually. Seems they are after “action” to make themselves look better for promotion time. Or getting the cush weekend extra duty for pensioin padding.

              I’d like to see someone come up with a scheme to nail the dirty coppers for false alerts with their dogs. When he states in his report that the dog “alerted” when it did not, he has committed perjury, cause he signs, swearing the content of his report is true and correct, under than penalty.

              I suppose, as part of the big court case arising out of a falsely-justified search, the dog’s training could be forced to be proven before the court and jury.

          3. I’ve been pulled over and asked to consent to a search. I asked what his ’cause’ was and he replied verbatim, ” I don’t have any, but if you refuse, you must have something to hide, and that’s ‘probable cause “.
            I refused, and he just said, ” My report will say you consented”.

            1. That sucks but I would have asked him if he knows that its a state crime to lie on reports and its a federal violation of your civil rights for him to lie and initiate and search without probable cause.

              Freedom isnt free but keep standing up for yourself and they’ll back down.

            2. Damn–I wish you had a recording of that. Post that corruption up on YouTube and watch the public outrage go viral.

          4. This happens to you “all the time”?

    2. There was an episode of “The Practice” where a client involved in a fender bender called his,lawyer from the scene of the accident, amd was advised to take a bottle of liquor he had stored in the trunk of his car and start drinking it in full view of witnesses.

    3. by declaring you just got home, you also declare you had been out somewhere. Then the copper can demand you tell him WHERE you had been. Now he’s gotchya…. at a drinking establishment. By YOUR words which can and will be used in a court of law to convict.

      Tell the dirty copper “sorry, I’m not interested” and close the door.

      THEN let said dirty copper do something REALLY stupid. And hang it on him thick.

  2. Shortly after going inside his house, Righeimer said that he received a knock on the door from a Costa Mesa police officer, who asked him to step outside and submit to a sobriety test.

    NEVER NEVER do this. Demand that they have a warrant, since the ‘crime’ never took place in front of the officer you’re currently not in a vehicle, and the officer has zero probable cause when or how or if you were driving.

    This guy was 100% sober, but talking to police that are corrupt like this can get you arrested for lying to police or some other trumped up charge.

    1. The “step outside” bit is to nail you for public intoxication. It doesn’t matter if you pass a breathalyzer test; all the cop has to do is say your speech was slurred, you were wobbly, leaning against the door, eyes were bloodshot and not tracking him, etc etc etc.

      At the very least you spend a few hours disrupting your friends’ lives bailing you out.

      1. When you step outside, stay on your property. Its public intoxication. There is no such thing as private intoxication being a crime.

        1. That’s not true. If you are visible by the public, then it’s public intoxication. Doesn’t matter if the property is public or private. Look it up.

          1. Depends on the state then. In Georgia. NOT.
            ? 16-11-41. Public drunkenness
            (a) A person who shall be and appear in an intoxicated condition in any public place or within the curtilage of any private residence not his own other than by invitation of the owner or lawful occupant, which condition is made manifest by boisterousness, by indecent condition or act, or by vulgar, profane, loud, or unbecoming language, is guilty of a misdemeanor.

            Hey, in Georgia you can shoot your gun on your property in full view of the ‘public’ and its not a violation of the law.

            In Georgia, you cannot get a speeding ticket on private property.

            1. Guess it varies by state. Regardless, that just means you have a defense in court. The cop can still illegally arrest you and face no consequences. The process is your punishment.

              1. That does happen but most cops back down with me.

                You can sue the police, ya know. They have immunity most times, but deposing them is fun.

                Police Chiefs and the police that fucked with you HATE you demanding that they appear for a deposition. You serve it on them at work so all their cop buddies give them shit.

                Then under oath, you get to ask them a bunch of questions that make them squirm.

                At some point, the judge might grant a Motion for Dismissal or Summary Judgment for the Defendants.

                Civil law is a great equalizer. If only police didnt always get Qualified Immunity for their corruption.

                1. What kind of questions? Examples, please.

                  1. I had a client (real estate finance related) that was involved in a lot of,lawsuits. He would usually depose them in writing using a fairly generic interrogatory questionnaire that was roughly 500 questions.

                    When did you first meet Party A?
                    Where did this meeting take place?
                    How long was this meeting?
                    Did you have any prior interaction with any of Party A’s business associates?

                    You get the idea. All the equations were fairly uncomplicated, but were fairly specific, amd completed under oath. Therefore not only did the other party have to answer all the questions, they had to make sure their answers were accurate, or they risked potential perjury charges. Plus if you’re dealing with a high ranking police official, and do a little research, I’m sure there are ,it’s of unpleasant subjects that could be reasonably brought up and at length.

              2. The process is your punishment.

                Exactly. This is how power is wielded.

          2. Right. Remember the brouhaha about some black Ivy League professor whose neighbor called the cops on? Later had a beer with Obummer? That’s EXACTLY what the cop was trying to create/frame. I don’t recall if there was alcohol involved, maybe it was just yelling, either way, the cop wanted the prof to be outside so he could charge him with some kind of breach of the peace.

  3. They really used the word victim? Not very bright, these lawyers.

  4. Another example of the freedoms inherent in a people’s republic.

  5. Ordinarily, if your employee pulled this kind of crap, you’d just fire them.

    I know that’s both obvious and useless to point out, it’s the best I can do right now.

  6. Perfect example of why when a copos is shot I say “so what ,who cares ? “

  7. Unions so often descend to just aggressive, vindictive, collectivist cults. “Join us and toe the line or we’ll make your life hell.” Police unions are the absolute worst.

  8. …died of “natural” causes.

  9. Overall, my opinion of attorneys and the profession has always been pretty low, but I thought they were intelligent, at least. Now, not so much.

  10. Yeah, public sector unions are a wonderful idea!

  11. > “pleaded guilty…to two felony counts of conspiracy to commit a crime of unlawful use of electronic tracking device,
    > one felony count of false imprisonment by deceit, and one felony count of conspiracy to commit a crime of falsely
    > reporting crime to an agency.” He was sentenced to 364 days in jail and three years’ probation.

    Wait a second. How exactly do you plead guilty to four felonies and get sentenced to the penalty for a single misdemeanor? From a legal stand point, he wouldn’t have lost his right to vote or possess firearms because of that sentence, even though he pleaded guilty to FOUR felonies!

    1. Well, there’s the law you and I are subject to, and there is the law government subjects itself to…

    2. “He was sentenced to 364 days in jail ..”

      What, you want him to go the big pokey where it is really dangerous?

    3. What do you want to bet he’s a retired cop?

  12. OH tried to pass a form of RTW law a few years back that would have included all public sector unions including the cops & firemen.

    The political backlash from the cops & firemen (e.g. Who will protect granny when the cops don’t come? Who will pull your kids from a burning building if the firefighters don’t come?) was enough to convince voters to sink the measure and Gov Kasich and the Rep legislature has made sure the subject hasn’t come up since.

    So, OH is now surrounded by RTW states, and suffering economically for it…

  13. Too bad they couldn’t have added a zero or two to that “settlement”, just to emphasize the point.
    Of course, now the City is no longer on the hook for collecting the union’s dues.
    Wonder what that reality is going to look like?

    1. B B B buh bye unions. That’s what that reality will look like.

      And its about time

  14. None of this surprises me. I personally know cops and have been falsely arrested and had the charges thrown out with prejudice. Cops will throw a citizen under the bus to protect them and theirs in a heartbeat.
    The same cops that will give you a DUI, will call the family member of a drunken cop to come to pick them up after they stop them for drunken driving.

  15. None of this stupidity and corruption by public officials will stop until they can be personally sued for their illegal or negligent actions while in office.

  16. I’d have told that dirty copper at the front door to go pound sand, or come back with a warrant.

    Then close the door in his face and lock it. AFTER getting his name/ID.

  17. And police wonder why citizens distrust them.

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