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Taft Midway Driller - Taft, CA
  • County Counsel Clash

  • The battle between Siskiyou County and its former county counsel Tom Guarino took a new turn recently when Guarino filed a tort claim against the county naming 30 causes of action and 19 individuals.
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  • Editors note: This story is part one of a two-part series.
    The battle between Siskiyou County and its former county counsel Tom Guarino took a new turn recently when Guarino filed a tort claim against the county naming 30 causes of action and 19 individuals.
    On Jan. 30, Guarino filed a claim against Siskiyou County supervisors, Sheriff Jon Lopey, County Administrative Officer (CAO) Tom Odom, current County Counsel Brian Morris, and a long list of other county staff and legal representatives.
    Among the claims of damages, losses and violations charged by Guarino are breach of contract, violation of First Amendment rights, violation of civil rights, defamation, extortion, retaliation and violations of labor codes.
    Siskiyou County has since issued a press release stating that it followed standard legal procedures throughout the process of investigating Guarino’s conduct, barring him from his office and eventually replacing him with  current County Counsel Brian Morris (see Monday’s edition of the Daily News).
    Background
    The conflict first came to the public’s attention on Aug. 16, 2012, when the board of supervisors voted to put Guarino on administrative leave while they performed a personnel investigation. The board sent Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Deputies to Guarino’s office to have him removed from the building. On Sept. 11, Guarino attempted to re-enter his office and was barred from entering by Lopey, Assistant Sheriff John Villani and then Deputy County Counsel Brian Morris.
    Guarino appeared before the board of supervisors twice during September, presenting them with letters from his attorney John Lawrence outlining charges that the board’s actions against him were illegal and did not follow due process for the removal of county counsel.
    On Sept. 18, 2012 the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors effectively terminated Guarino’s employment through a unanimous vote to rescind his reappointment to the position. The rescission was undertaken nine months after they originally voted to reappoint him. Guarino’s new term as county counsel would have begun on Nov. 2, 2012. The rescission took effect on that date. In his Jan. 30 claim, Guarino alleges that the recission of his reappointment was also illegal.
    Throughout that time period Siskiyou County representatives refused to comment on their grounds for investigating Guarino and barring him from his office. Guarino also alleges that the board refused to communicate with him regarding the case.
    Guarino’s claim
    Among the allegations listed in Guarino’s claim is the charge that the county illegally abandoned him by cutting off his legal representation in a suit filed against him, the board of supervisors and other county staff. That suit was filed by former deputy county counsel Paula Baca. Her suit, filed last spring, alleged discrimination, harassment and retaliation (among other charges) by Guarino – her supervisor at the time – and other county representatives. Several internal investigations were performed by the law firm of Cota Cole, LLP in regards to Baca’s claims.  However, according to Guarino and  the  suit filed by Baca, none of the investigations resulted in disciplinary action against Guarino. The Baca litigation is ongoing.
    Page 2 of 3 - On Jan. 29 a federal court disqualified Cota Cole from representing the county in that case on grounds of conflict of interest, due to its previous involvement with Guarino regarding Baca’s claims.
    Guarino also alleges that the county threatened to use confidential information against him if he did not resign. His claim states, “the county threatened to utilize confidential information obtained from attorney David Prentice … who was at the time representing County Counsel Guarino as part of a multiple party representation agreement, in an effort to coerce his resignation through the threat of disciplinary action for activity protected by the state and federal constitutions and state and federal statutory law.”
    Guarino has long maintained that part of the county’s motivation for removing him from office was based on disapproval of a certain legal opinion he issued to them. This charge is again listed in his claim, stating, “The board of supervisors, CAO Tom Odom and Assistant CAO Rose Ann Herrick undertook a course of retaliation because County Counsel Guarino provided a written opinion to which they objected.”
    The county’s attorney David Prentice – who was representing Guarino in the Baca suit – has denied this allegation. He told the Daily News in September, “It has to do with his own conduct and he knows what that conduct is. Nobody is questioning his ability as a lawyer or his legal opinion.” He added, “This whole thing was a response to certain events that occurred and they involved him.”
    In addition to Guarino’s allegations that the county acted illegally when they barred him from his office and ultimately removed him from the position of county counsel, he is claiming monetary damages of an unspecified amount. Six categories of damages are listed in the claim and all are listed as exceeding $10,000 each.
    Public comments
    On Feb. 12, Guarino appeared before the board of supervisors at their regular meeting to comment during the open public comment period.
    Guarino began his statement by citing the recent decision by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California ruling in favor of his motion to disqualify David Prentice and Cota Cole, LLP from representing Siskiyou County in the Baca case.
    The ruling states, “Having found that a sufficient possibility exists that a conflict of interest will arise in Cota Cole, LLP’s representation of the county defendants in this case, given defendant Prentice’s prior independent conversations regarding the matter at hand with defendant Guarino, Cota Cole, LLP may not continue to represent the county defendants in this matter.”
    Guarino told the board, “Those lawyers are the same lawyers that pursued the course of conduct against me that you entered into illegally over six months ago.” He said the board will have to hire new lawyers and alleged that the county will subsequently “waste a ton of taxpayers’ money covering up for [their] misdeeds.”
    Page 3 of 3 - Guarino followed that statement by telling the board members they are “some of the most awful public servants” he has witnessed. At that, Supervisor Michael Kobseff interrupted Guarino’s statement, saying, “Are we going to go on with this?”
    Board chair Ed Valenzuela told  Guarino he could finish his alloted three minute comment period.
    Guarino finished by telling the board, “I don’t care how many weeks or how many months or how many years it takes, I am going to hold each and every one of you accountable.”
    Monday’s edition of the Daily News will feature Siskiyou County’s response to Guarino’s claim.

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