Moving quickly to replace former City Attorney Christi Hogin, the City Council Monday hired an interim replacement and set up a committee, headed by former Mayor Jeff Kramer, to screen candidates applying to permanently fill the city attorney position. Each council member was permitted one appointment to the screening committee.
The committee, to be made up of local lawyers, will also include Gil Segel, appointed by Mayor Pro Tem Carolyn Van Horn. Segel is currently under investigation by the city and by the state Fair Political Practices Commission for possible campaign finance violations during last year’s City Council election.
The committee may wield influence over the choice of the new city attorney, the person who might determine whether to continue or end the city’s campaign investigations and prosecutions.
The interim city attorney, Richard Terzian, is a partner in the downtown Los Angeles law firm of LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene and MacRae, where he primarily represents public agencies. For 31 years, he has worked on a contract basis as the city attorney for Rolling Hills Estates. City Manager Harry Peacock, who at one time worked with Terzian in that South Bay city, highly recommended him to the City Council.
The contract with Terzian was tentatively approved in a special meeting last week and was formally adopted by the council Monday on a 4-1 vote. Mayor Walt Keller opposed the contract because of Terzian’s fees. As interim attorney, Terzian will be paid $7,500 per month for 30 hours of work. Any additional work over the 30 hours per month will be billed at $250 an hour.
Keller said an attorney working for the city of Calabasas would only have billed $110 an hour.
“The council members who supported [the contract last week] acted in haste and to the detriment of the city’s budget,” said Keller.
While he called the rest of the council’s action “reckless,” he singled out Councilman Harry Barovsky for criticism because Barovsky has publicly speculated the city will have to pay close to $400,000 for an interim attorney and to find a permanent replacement for Hogin.
“[Barovsky] is sort of presenting a self-fulfilling prophecy by voting for the most expensive attorney he can find,” Keller said.
Barovsky retorted, “Reckless is $227,000,” referring to the amount Keller, Van Horn and Councilman Tom Hasse agreed to pay Hogin in return for her resignation. He added, “You want to spend that kind of money to get rid of — or part company with — a perfectly good city attorney, that’s your business,” pausing for dramatic effect at the euphemistic description of Hogin’s departure from the city.
Hasse, attempting to provide what he said was some “levity” to the discussion, joked with Terzian, “As you can see, Malibu is a calm, cool, collected place where reason triumphs over passion.”
In response to Keller’s complaints about Terzian’s fees, Hasse said the city needed legal representation in place as soon as possible following Hogin’s departure.
“I’m sure if we had had the time, we could have searched far and near and found someone as qualified as the interim attorney for less money, but we didn’t have the time,” he said.
Terzian thanked the council for its appointment. “Even though you have different views that are vigorously expressed at times, each one of you cares very much about this city, and each one of you wants to do the very best you possibly can,” he told the council. “I think I can work with people who care about a city this much.”
In addition to Van Horn’s appointment of Segel, the council also accepted Hasse’s appointment of former Mayor Kramer as the chair of the screening committee and Barovsky’s appointment of David Kagon. Councilwoman Joan House said she had not finalized her decision and plans to name her appointment at the next council meeting. Keller, who appeared ready to make his appointment, declined to do so at Monday’s meeting. “I’ve decided I’ll wait,” he said.
In addition to screening candidates for the new city attorney, the committee will recommend whether the city should hire an in-house attorney or retain one on a contract basis.