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City of Vernon’s Battle Against Disincorporation Leads to Huge Legal Fees

The California City of Vernon has turned to the law firm of Latham & Watkins to defend the City against disincorporation efforts. While former state Attorney General, John Van de Kamp, the city’s current ethics advisor, has praised Latham’s work, he also has stated that the city is paying far too much for legal services, whether it is the rates that Latham is charging or the general amount of legal expenses. Between 2005 and 2010, the City has spent more than $40 million on outside law firms. This doesn’t include the $500,000+ annual salary to three different City staff attorneys.

The current disincorporation efforts stem from corruption allegations that were apparently present throughout the municipal government. The City, which only has approximately 100 residents, has had 3 top officials in recent years charged with public corruption, amazingly 3% of the total population. (For comparison, that would be like having 240,000 people charged with public corruption in New York City). Current City councilmen, formerly some of the highest paid elected officials in Los Angeles County, have had their salaries cut to $25,000 a year and are now subject to term limits.

The councilmen have fired back, alleging that Latham has taken control of the municipality while leaving it saddled with legal bills. Councilman Daniel D. Newmire said, “The law firm is running the city. That’s the way I smell it”. Councilman Richard J. Maisano added “My concern constantly is the solvency of the city in the future. Who is going to end up paying for this?” However, the objectivity of the councilmen is questioned because much of the advice to the City in its struggles have centered around reforming the council. Latham has had over 160 attorneys working for the City of Vernon since 2005, charging rates up to $975 an hour. Previous work that the firm performed included matters related to land-use and energy finance.

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