Wednesday, February 28, 2007

ACLU Backs Furchtenicht

By Nao Braverman
With the American Civil Liberties Union on his side, Ojai resident Jeff Furchtenicht will ask the Ventura County Superior Court to revisit the anti-SLAPP motion he filed against the city in October 2006.
"We think it's a SLAPP suit and we're very strong supporters of the anti-SLAPP law," said Peter Eliasberg, managing attorney with the ACLU of Southern California. SLAPP stands for strategic lawsuit against public participation.
The dispute between Furchtenicht and the city began when city attorney Monte Widders refused to write a ballot title and summery for two proposed initiatives Furchtenicht filed with the city in August 2006.
The initiatives addressed issues that had received ample attention from local residents concerned about the future of the city. One measure directed the Ojai City Council to address the affordability of housing in the city. The second directed the council to take measures to discourage chain stores from opening downtown.
Upon receiving the request to write a ballot title and summary, Widders asked Furchtenicht to withdraw his initiatives because they were not written in the proper format, because they were too vague, he said. If he refused to withdraw them, Widders told Furchtenicht, the city would seek the opinion of a judge.
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Anonymous said...

The recent citizen SLAPP suit, and
the city of Ojai's continued litigation and run up legal expense to tune of $500K deserves closer look. Monte Widder's pattern of futile litigation at city's general fund expense and to his benefit goes beyond reason. Question begs for his departure and start recall effort for council supporting and voting for this continued wasteful woeful and willful sham. This game's been running for much too long- not for long is there an upward surplus when the council votes as directed by city attorney Widders for SLAPP appeal. Widders has his cash cow at the expense of the general fund, and the council appears,truthfully or not to understand the implications of further debt. Would like to see community efforts and talents put to work on this because the status quo has not shown wise and sound decision making, but continued mistakes using unsound methods from past. If I were to lose substantial amounts of revenue in my home budget, I probably could not appeal to float a bond
to make up for losses.

Sean P. Keenan said...

Ojai's City Council has got to go. At the very least they should resign for trying to thwart democracy and for trying to set a precedent in California Constitutional Law for a "pocket veto" against citizen sponsored direct democracy. California's hard won direct democracy, initiative and recall statutes have been on the books for nearly one hundred years; now the Ojai city council and Monte Widders think they can come along and spend our money to overturn all of that.

Think I'm lying or exaggerating? Then why has the ACLU, the United States' most important civil rights organization, joined the appeal against the City for using a SLAPP suit against Jeff? How much is this going to cost the city? How much has it already cost us? On one day alone, Monte and two associates showed up at court (three lawyers) to beg the judge for a continuance because they weren't ready for the case that Jeff's lawyer put up. That day cost the city over one thousand dollars. What we know for sure is that they've paid Monte's firm more that $20,000.00 for this travesty. That amount is for hours billed to the city by Widders' firm in October and November, the period that the judge threw the case out of court because it had no merit. The majority of the work done on this case had to have happened in the August/September period. We don't have Widders' bill for that period, but it was probably at least as high as the Oct/Nov period. So basically the city has already spent over $40,000.00 of our money to sue a citizen of Ojai for exercising his constitutional rights! That's insane! WHAT ARE THESE PEOPLE DOING?

Because Steve Olsen wasn't on the council at the time, all but he voted to thwart democracy by suing Jeff and "50 john does to be determined later". Rae Hanstad, Joe DeVito, Sue Horgan and Carol Smith should resign for having done this. Not to let Steve Olsen off the hook, he said he was against the lawsuit during the election only to win and then vote with Rae Hanstad, Sue Horgan and Joe DeVito to spend MORE money and file a CROSS-APPEAL! Funny way to be against the lawsuit. Steve Olsen should resign too. Carol Smith, to her credit, seems to have regurgitated the Kool-Aid and actually voted against authorizing Monte Widders to spend even more money on this doomed lawsuit HE filed. She might be the only council-person who knows what ACLU stands for. Perhaps Carol can be forgiven and not asked to resign, but only if she does the following:

1) Apologize publicly for trying to block the initiative process by voting for the lawsuit against Jeff.

2) Acknowledge that a cross appeal by the city is an attempt to damage California's nearly 100 year old direct democracy initiative process by enshrining a precedent in California Constitutional Law for a "pocket veto" for city attorneys.

3) Promise to never allow another SLAPP suit on her watch.

4) Promise to work toward and eventually remove Monte Widders as Ojai's city attorney.

5) and Vote to cease all legal proceedings in this case.

In fact, maybe all of the city council would like to come out and perform the above mae culpa. That is the only way I can see that they should be allowed to remain in their seats. Let's not forget that the very same statutes that allow California citizens to petition for initiatives also allows us to RECALL representatives who are not representing us. The council can still dodge this freight train by doing the above 5 things, otherwise it is our duty to seek their resignations or recall them in order to protect out rights.

Anonymous said...

If what you say is even half correct, the council should resign. Those sound like 5 very reasonable suggestions. If they are not, the city at this point needs to explain why not, and better explain what the heck they are trying to accomplish with this lawsuit in the first place. I know it doesn't make sense to most people.

As far as a recall, who is going to sign a recall petition when the city files SLAPP suits against people who do! Good luck.