Monday night the Malibu City Council spent nearly two hours debating a motion proposed by Councilman Walt Keller to prevent Malibu City Attorney Christi Hogin from going on her vacation.
You might well wonder why it is the council spent all its time trying to block a long-scheduled vacation by a city employee who has been here almost five years.
Keller doesn’t want Hogin to leave on vacation until she finishes the investigation of alleged campaign violations in the last City Council election. Hogin has repeatedly told Keller and the council that the investigation is ongoing, that she cannot nor will not divulge the contents of the investigation, that she can’t give them a completion date because that depends on the evidence and in any event they have no legal right to that information. The motion died because the vote was 2 to 2 , Keller and Van Horn for it, House and Barovsky against it. It takes three votes to pass a motion. Councilman Tom Hasse didn’t vote on the motion because he had previously recused himself from anything related to this campaign violation investigation since it may relate to his election.
This action by Keller, joined by Van Horn, is a new low for Malibu government. This is one of the most flagrant examples I’ve ever heard of to try and block a legitimate investigation by attempting to blackmail or coerce a city attorney into not conducting a proper criminal investigation. It has become more than politics. It’s looking more and more like an attempt to obstruct justice.
First, at an earlier council meeting, they attempted to block her hiring outside counsel to help her conduct the investigation. Then, there was an obviously orchestrated attempt by a group of their cohorts to launch a continuous, venomous attack against Hogin and the investigation by attacking her at the council meetings and in the letters to the editor.
I must confess, when this investigation first started I didn’t think much of it. Most of these post-election investigations don’t amount to much, and even if they uncover anything people usually end up paying a fine and saying, “I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.” Now I’m beginning to wonder. When Keller, Van Horn and their allies spend almost two hours shouting and stomping, fuming and speechifying, you begin to wonder if there is something there, something they are desperately trying to keep out of the public spotlight.
This tack is fraught with peril. Aside from the obvious potential criminality in some of these actions, there are all sorts of civil implications. These attacks against Hogin go to her professional reputation, her honesty and her ability. If they are unable to coerce her into giving up the investigation, which I suspect will be the case because Christi Hogin is not easily pushed around (as anyone who has ever been up against her well knows), they next will try and push her out of the job by making it as uncomfortable as possible for her. If that doesn’t work, they’ll try and trump something up and fire her.
Of course, they can’t do that without Hasse since it takes three votes to take that action. Look for Hasse to try and weasel out of recusing himself from these votes as the investigation gets closer to home.
Ultimately, if what they’re trying to cover up is as bad as it appears, or more likely if the people who have broken the campaign ordinance are well-known Hollywood personalities, as some of us suspect, this could make the national news and prove very embarrassing. Before it gets to that point, they most certainly will move against Hogin.
The civil exposure of the city in this episode isn’t just big, it’s horrendous. It’s wrongful termination, it’s harassment, it’s asking employees to do illegal things, it’s trying to force a city attorney to violate her oath and break the law and then punishing her when she refuses. It’s a city’s worst litigation nightmare.
It’s up to us as citizens of Malibu to stop this. If we don’t protect our city employees and honor them doing their job, then we deserve what we get.
I encourage you to watch the tape of the City Council meeting of July 27, 1998. Judge for yourself if I’ve exaggerated. Then send your letters to the editor to us and the Surfside News. Call your City Council members. Send them faxes. Stop them in the market and let them know how you feel.
It’s up to us to protest this venality or shut up and live with it. If any of you are as appalled as I am at this conduct by Keller, Van Horn and their mob, get in touch with me. It’s time to fight back.