Communication from senator’s office sparks controversy

A transcript mistakenly sent to the city details a voicemail left by a member of Sen. Sheila Kuehl’s staff to the attorney of local activist Ozzie Silna, who is involved in a private lawsuit. Kuehl calls the situation a “bogus issue.”

By Jonathan Friedman/Assistant Editor

A staff consultant from state Sen. Sheila Kuehl’s office has become involved in a local lawsuit, leaving some of those involved in the suit questioning the propriety of the consultant’s actions.

Voicemail transcripts of Sheila Kuehl’s staff consultant, Syrus Devers, which were never intended for public circulation, have become part of the latest chapter in the battle between local activists Ozzie Silna and Wade Major.

Two transcripts of voicemails sent from Devers to Silna’s attorney, Abraham M. Rudy, were mistakenly sent to the city of Malibu last week, therefore becoming public documents. The transcripts were included in a multipage request to the city for documents regarding the 2004 City Council election.

Silna sued Major for attorney fees earlier this year after Major had unsuccessfully attempted to have a temporary restraining order placed on Silna to prevent him from spending further money on the City Council campaign. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Terry Friedman ruled against Silna’s request, and Silna has since appealed the decision.

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In the voicemail transcripts, Devers advises Silna’s lawyer on different interpretations regarding anti-SLAPP laws, which Friedman used in denying Silna’s appeal.

Major said that Devers’ involvement shows he was not being impartial, but rather, “conspiratorial,” and that Kuehl’s office is trying to help Silna in his appeal.

Devers said he was just giving information that only he knows regarding a state code, because he helped draft the Kuehl bill that was signed into law this year, which amended the existing anti-SLAPP law to protect environmental and other organizations that sue on behalf of the public.

When told that Major believed Devers’ communication was not neutral, Kuehl said, “I don’t care about his interpretation … Trying to tie this to any political issue is ridiculous. This is a bogus issue.”

Devers, who helped draft the bill’s language, said he gave Rudy information because he had the information and research that led to the creation of the bill. Devers said, as a public servant, he was obligated to help Rudy to that point when asked to do so.

“If his [Silna] opponent called me up, I would give the exact same access and help to him,” Devers said.

Major said the wording of the transcript tells a different story than of Devers just giving neutral advice and research to Rudy. Major pointed to a line that states, “I might be able to be successful in strengthening your arguments” and the fact that Devers uses the word “we” twice when referring to an argument Devers said Rudy should make.

“This is not saying what you [Rudy] might be able to do, he [Devers] is saying ‘we,'” Major said. “That’s conspiratorial. He [Devers] does not use the words of somebody being impartial.”

Devers admitted he is not absolutely neutral with regards to the Silna suit. He said the bill he helped draft was not intended to protect citizens involved in litigation against other citizens. Devers added that he might have to take another look at the language of the bill to make it less broad.

Matter of a $10,000 donation

Major said it was an interesting sequence of events that Silna donated $10,000 to the Democratic State Central Committee a little less than two weeks after a judge ruled against his attempt to gain attorney fees, with the communication coming from Devers to Rudy about a month later.

Silna said he made the donation so it would indirectly go toward John Kerry’s presidential campaign, because he had already paid out the maximum that he was allowed to give directly to the campaign. Silna said that to imply the donation was made so he could receive a favor from Kuehl’s office was “so absurd it’s beyond stupidity.”

Mayor Sharon Barovsky said of the situation, “I’ve known Sheila Kuehl and I trust her integrity; and I think that it’s unfortunate that people with a great deal of money leave the appearance of impropriety.”

Kuehl laughed upon hearing Barovsky’s comment. She said she had no interest in the outcome of the Silna/Major suit, although she was interested in how a law that came into effect out of a bill proposed by her was interpreted. She said it was appropriate for Devers to communicate with Rudy because there is a standing order on her staff that when an inquiry is received about any of her legislation, the staff is supposed to answer it as fully as possible.

Rudy said Major’s complaint about the Devers communication was a “desperate measure from a desperate man.” He added that Barovsky’s statement showed she is “just too eager to jump on the bandwagon.”

“Neither of them decided to turn on their brains when their mouths decided to work,” Rudy said. “And they ended up spewing garbage like this; false, baseless, unsupported accusations. They can’t point to anything that is wrong or even appears to be wrong.”

Rudy added that even if Devers’ communication was not impartial, it was irrelevant because there is no law that requires state officials to be impartial.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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