City wins legal victory

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Once again, political campaigns and governmental action seem to beget litigation locally and keep the California Court of Appeal busy on Malibu business.

The city won a big legal victory recently, and departed City Attorney Christi Hogin won a big case in absentia recently when the Court of Appeal decided a major Malibu case on which she had worked for several years.

The victory for the city came in the housing case where the city’s housing element, part of the General Plan, had been challenged by a nonprofit-housing activist organization primarily for lack of low- and moderate-income housing. Earlier, a state agency, the California Department of Housing and Community Development, had refused to approve the city’s plan because it found it “not to be in compliance with the state housing law.” The city, as was its right, went ahead with it anyway, and there was a court challenge.

The case was tried in the Los Angeles Superior Court and the city of Malibu won. The decision was appealed to the Court of Appeal, and once again, in a decision filed Jan. 10, 2000, the city won. Unless the case is appealed to the California Supreme Court, which is unlikely, the case is over.

In an interesting footnote, the Court of Appeal decision noted Malibu Bay Company had hired as a consultant the former deputy director of the Department of Housing, an official who had been involved in the review process of the Malibu Plan.

In another case, a hangover from the 1996 City Council elections, the Court of Appeal ruled in favor of Matthew Cohn and upheld a decision by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge who had heard a civil case brought against Cohn by Harold Greene, a former City Council candidate. Greene charged Cohn had taped an allegedly secret campaign meeting with a hidden tape recorder. In its decision, the Court of Appeal referred to the trial court’s written decision in which the trial court said: “The court is satisfied that the testimony of Mr. Greene [and another witness] made out a prima facie case that Mr. Cohn’s secret recording of the 2/2/9[6] meeting was a violation of Penal Code Section 632. However, the transcript of the 2/2/9[6] meeting shows that near the end of the … meeting, Mr. Greene said: … ‘All of these things that I’m bringing here tonight … and sharing them with you openly … without any controls of what you’re going to do with this data….’ It seems to the court that this statement at the conclusion of the meeting destroyed or removed the expectation of confidentiality which would have been present without it….”

The court then found in favor of Cohn.