City of Calabasas Spent $867,000 in Legal Expenses in 2011-2012, the Majority Spent Litigating Against Its Senior Citizens

A study of public records from the City of Calabasas reveals that the City spent $867,000 in legal expenses over the 2011-2012 period. This is far beyond what the City budgeted, and an unnecessary expense generated by a management that’s out-of-control. The actual expenditures are not easy to find, as they’re tucked away in various accounts. But the names of the attorneys are in plain view for those willing to take time to look. To make it easy for our readers, we took the time to pull the relevant figures into a spreadsheet, which you can view online by clicking this link.

Sample of 2011-2012 City of Calabasas Legal Expenditures

The fees largely divide up among former City Attorney Michael Colantuono and the firm Dapeer, Rosenblit and Litvak. Besides Mr. Colantuono’s usual duties as City Attorney, functioning as a legal resource and having a presence at City Council meetings, both the City Attorney and Dapeer, Rosenblit, and Litvak were engaged in significant litigation against Calabasas senior citizens, often in cases where the City is attempting to drive long-time senior residents from their homes. Several of these cases are still in progress.

City Attorney Colantuono’s fees over the 2-year period: $433,000.
Dapeer, Rosenblit and Litvak fees over the 2-year period: $387,000.

Considering the nature of services that a less litigative city would need, most people consider these figures to be over-the-top. If you’re the defendant, these numbers represent the scale of costs you have to undertake to fight back. That’s where this entire “litigation against seniors” business becomes hideous.

What is the City Council doing about it? It appears our current incumbents running for election have been too busy singing each others praises to do anything other than spew the usual token gestures. What’s needed is real reform of City management. Real reform of a bloated bureaucracy that continues to drain the City’s reserves. Real reform of a culture that’s too quick to say “sue me,” rather than engage in meaningful dialog to resolve community issues.

But there is hope. Once upon a time, things were different in the land of affluent pumpkins, where the City’s CFO reported directly to the Council, as it was meant to be. Section 2.24.040(B) of the City’s Municipal Code wisely establishes City Council as the primary authority over the CFO’s office. Only the City Council can re-assign, and remove, reporting authority with regard to the CFO. Somewhere along the way, presumably for reasons that made sense at the time, the CFO was re-assigned to report to the City Manager. But things are different today. Without this oversight, the Calabasas City Council is powerless to exert any control of significance over City management. It’s time for City Council to claim its reins, and take charge. But with a full complement of cronies running for office in the current election, will anyone have the sense to stand up and pledge real reform?