Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Ojai Lawsuit Set For Showdown

City, Furchtenicht both appeal parts of judge’s earlier decision

By Nao Braverman
Both the city of Ojai and local citizen Jeff Furchtenicht are appealing the decision made by a Ventura County Superior Court judge almost a year-and-a-half ago.
The ongoing case, which has already cost the city $78,771.83, according to city manager Jere Kersnar, was initially thrown out in late November 2006. Somehow the language of the judge’s ruling left each party feeling that the determination was made mostly in their favor. Furchtenicht’s anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) was clearly denied, however, prompting him to appeal that portion of the judge’s decision.
A cross appeal was subsequently filed by the city, and an oral argument is scheduled for this July.
The drawn-out dispute, began nearly two years ago, when city attorney Monte Widders refused to prepare a ballot title and summary for two citizen’s initiatives, proposed by Furchtenicht on Aug. 21, 2006.
Widders claimed that the initiatives, regarding affordable housing and chain stores in Ojai, were not submitted in the proper format, and were thus unconstitutional on their face.
The text of the first initiative directed the council to “urgently consider and take measures to address the affordability of housing in the city,” and the second asked the council to discourage chain stores from opening downtown.
“These are all nice goals,” said Widders, “but an initiative has to enact a legislation.”
He then asked Furchtenicht to withdraw the initiatives and when Furchtenicht did not do so, Widders took him to court.
At the Nov. 29, 2006 hearing, Ventura County Superior Court Judge Ken Riley dismissed the case on the grounds that even if the alleged complaints were true, there was no need for a lawsuit. Although Furchtenicht’s demurrer was granted, and this was the determination that Furchtenicht had hoped for, the judge also stated that Widders had been “well within his official duty to deny Furchtenicht’s request to title and summarize the two initiatives,” according to minutes of the hearing. Judge Riley also denied the SLAPP complaint, claiming that it was Furchtenicht’s failure to withdraw the initiatives, not the right to petition, that caused the lawsuit.
Furchtenicht then appealed the denial and the American Civil Liberties Union came on board to defend him.
Furchtenicht and his ACLU representative Peter Eliasberg’s position is that the city attorney should not impede in a citizen’s right to circulate an initiative.
“When the judge denied the SLAPP complaint, that was an error,” said Furchtenicht. “The city is trying to give the city attorney the power to pocket veto an initiative at its inception, which would be a serious diminishment to our right to petition. The last thing we want to have is Monte Widders walking away, thinking it was OK to do what he did.”
But Kersnar said that the city’s position was that the attorney should have some power to refuse to write a ballot title and summary for a measure that is not constitutional on its face.
“Let’s take an extreme example,” said Kersnar. “Let’s say a citizen wanted to propose a measure saying something as ridiculous as allowing discrimination. Then we don’t think the attorney should have to go through the process of writing a ballot title and summary of something that is obviously unconstitutional.”
Nonetheless, Kersnar said the city would have not have filed a cross appeal, had Furchtenicht not appealed the denial of the anti-SLAPP motion first.
“If the court is going to appeal only parts of the decision, we wanted the case to be reviewed in its entirety,” said Kersnar.
The reason that the ACLU took interest in the case, was that Widder’s decision to take Furchtenicht to court could have the effect of stifling public participation. If citizens are afraid of being sued if they propose an initiative, they would certainly be less likely to do so, explained Michael Chait, of Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp LLP, who is working with Eliasberg on the case.
The dispute also boils down to a debate over the appropriate timing of a challenge.
“There is a process, and people do challenge initiatives. But the appropriate time is after one has received enough signatures for an initiative to be placed on the ballot, not before, said Chait.
But the city’s position, according to Widders, is that a pre-election challenge from the city attorney is appropriate.
In an amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” brief, in support of Furchtenicht, prepared by the Initiative and Referendum Institute, attorneys argue that the initiative process, where citizens are allowed to sell their ideas to fellow citizens, is as important, if not more so, than the placement of those initiatives on the ballot. The amicus brief cites research which supports the fact that the initiative process itself encourages civic engagement, and public participation in politics, and increases voter turnout. Therefore, such a process should not be prematurely impeded upon, according to the institute.
“Entertaining court challenges by public officials at early stages of the initiative process will prevent many of these effects — including increased civic engagement and satisfaction with government — from taking hold,” according to the amicus brief. “Moreover fewer citizens will propose any kind of legislation reform if they believe that by doing so they are exposing themselves to the risk of costly litigation.”
Furchtenicht said that the ACLU had taken on the case pro-bono but he wasn’t sure how much the case has cost them to date, or the amount that it cost him before the organization got involved.
The case is now in the State Court of Appeal, Second Appellant District, and the oral argument is set for July 11.


Anonymous said...

An erroneus and sadly unfortunate
expenditure of badly needed funds
by the city of Ojai and attorney.
Also has a chilling effect towards
any citizen who is inclined to
participate in an inniative process
for the common good, such as chain
store regulation or affordable
housing provision. Exactly the kind
of thing that invites new prospects to be seated on the city council.PL

Anonymous said...

Why didn't Jeff just rewrite it in the proper format? It would have cost nothing, thereby saving the City of Ojai and the ACLU money adn time, and it would be on a ballot to be voted on by now.

The City Council shouldn't have to be bothered with paperwork errors.

Anonymous said...

There was no "paper work" error. It was Widders' contention that the initiatives were written incorrectly. The judge ruled that Widders had no case, however he split his judgement by then failing to rule that the very act of going to court was a SLAPP. The ACLU saw it for what it was and jumped in to correct the error on the judges part in the appellate court. The whole "paper work" scenario is Widders and the then city council's cover for having engaged in a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.

Sadly, the OVN has continued to do a journalistic disservice to the community by buying this sham excuse. I wonder if they will be prepare to apologize when the court rules that a SLAPP occurred? I also wonder if the remaining city council people, Joe DeVito and Carol Smith, will resign for their votes to chill public participation in our city.


Anonymous said...

Other initiatives seem to get written correctly, and placed on the ballot.

The goal should be to get the initiative voted on. The first step is meeting Widders' objections. Instead, Furchentict gets on his high horse and won't put it in the format that everybody else seems to handle ok. And costs the city $70K+. Two years later, there is no progress on the goal? Seems like a little elbow grease on reformatting would have solved it.

Anonymous said...

Well, at least you got one thing right. The city council did indeed spend $70k+ which went directly to Widders. The then city council voted to sue Jeff, he did not sue the city. Other initiatives get written and are not SLAPPed by the city because the ACLU threw down the gauntlet and put the city on notice.

As to the issue of "no progress on the goal(s)". We now have a formula business ordinance in Ojai chiefly because Jeff opened the issue up with his original initiative. The equally important issue of affordable housing has not yet been addressed in a satisfactory manner, though many people have ideas on this and more than a few are waiting for the expected SLAPP ruling from the court to insure that they are not sued by the city when they propose their ideas. By my count that means half of the goals in Jeff's original initiatives have been achieved.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Nao Braverman and OVN for bringing a little light to this issue.

Some points to supplement the article:

1. City officials continue to publicly claim their issue was with the “format” of my initiatives. However, Mr. Widders’ objection to my initiatives has never been to their “format.” Instead, he has challenged their substance as “unconstitutional”, citing as authority a single case from an appeals court out of our district. I am an attorney, and I read the case he cited. I believe it is thin authority at best for his sweeping objection to the proposed initiatives. More importantly, if allowed to stand, it is the sort of objection that I believe would allow a city attorney, acting alone, to block any initiative he did not like, at inception.

2. The article omits a critical fact when it recites that Mr. Widders “… asked Furchtenicht to withdraw the initiatives and when Furchtenicht did not do so, Widders took him to court.” Here’s what actually happened: In response to Mr. Widders’ refusal to provide title and summary, and his threat to sue me if I did not withdraw, I told Mr. Widders in writing that I had no desire to litigate, and I offered to withdraw the initiatives in favor of putting the underlying subject matter on a council agenda for public discussion. The city council’s first opportunity to consider this proposal as a council would have been at its September 26 meeting. Mr. Widders filed his lawsuit on September 25, without accepting or rejecting my offer.

$78,000 (and counting) later, it is worth asking why Mr. Widders could not wait one day before filing his lawsuit, to permit the city council to decide whether it preferred to publicly discuss the underlying issues of affordable housing and independent businesses over a lawsuit.

All the communication prior to Mr. Widders filing his lawsuit was in writing, and can be read on the Ojai Post. I encourage everyone to read this for themselves:


3. The article says that Judge Riley “dismissed the case on the grounds that even if the alleged complaints were true, there was no need for a lawsuit.” The standard is not that there is “no need” for a lawsuit, but that the complaint on its face failed to state a cause of action. That is, Mr. Widders’ lawsuit was invalid on its face, and could not proceed. Ojai taxpayers should understand this, and consider how they would react if they personally hired an attorney who billed them for filing a lawsuit that is thrown out of court on its face.

4. According to the article, Mr. Kersnar says the city would not have filed its own appeal “had Furchtenicht not appealed the denial of the anti-SLAPP motion first.” This minimizes what the city is doing in its appeal. As it stands, Mr. Widders’ cross appeal is anything but inconsequential; it constitutes an attempt to create a new right for a city attorney to refuse to process initiatives, killing them at inception, when he thinks they are “unconstitutional.” This new right would be directly contrary to current law as set forth in a case called Schmitz v. Younger, in which our Supreme Court held in no uncertain terms that the duty to title and summarize an initiative is “ministerial” and may not be refused by a ministerial official because the official believes the proposed initiative is unconstitutional.

It is worth repeating the question I asked Mr. Widders in writing almost two years ago, before he filed his lawsuit: “[H]as the City authorized you [Mr. Widders] to refuse your statutory duty and commit the City to first-impression litigation seeking to establish this nonstatutory "right" of a city attorney to, in his discretion, quash initiatives he doesn't like at the pre-petition stage? That is litigation of a Constitutional dimension, easily likely to cost the City in excess of six figures before all is done. It is on an issue wholly unrelated to the City's business, and it is wholly unnecessary. You could just as easily perform your duties, as did the city attorney in your leading case of Marblehead, without committing the City to litigation at this stage.”

Why didn’t Mr. Widders simply provide the title and summary? Why are Ojai taxpayers bankrolling what amounts to an attempt to roll back their rights?

5. Nao brings attention to amicus curiae, the Initiative and Referendum Institute. The Initiative and Referendum Institute (“IRI”) is an independent, nonpartisan institute located at USC. They are represented by the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis, one of this country’s largest and most respected law firms, and one that is often at the forefront of cases of Constitutional law before the U.S. Supreme Court. Nao’s article summarizes some of what is in the IRI’s amicus curiae brief. There is more. A sample:

“This [Widders’] lawsuit is precisely the kind of action that arises from protected activity and that the anti-SLAPP law was enacted to guard against. The lawsuit was not designed to obtain declaratory relief; a declaration that the proposal was unconstitutional would have achieved nothing for Mr. Widders, who had already killed the initiative by his failure to prepare title and summary. Rather, Mr. Widders’ suit is the typical SLAPP suit, the goal of which is not to prevail, but rather is filed “solely for delay and distraction, and to punish activists by imposing litigation costs on them for exercising their constitutional right to speak and petition the government for redress of grievances.””

That is the view of the IRI, an independent educational and research organization concerned with the statewide ballot initiative and referendum process, as stated in its brief. If Mr. Widders’ action were not something we should all be concerned about, people should ask themselves why the IRI is in this case – and, why it is supporting me, and not Mr. Widders.

Finally, perhaps the most important and costly aspect of this for Ojai is that, whatever Mr. Widders’ intentions may have been, as a SLAPP his lawsuit has been very effective. It has completely distracted and dissuaded me from moving forward on affordable housing and independent business issues. A number of other citizens have refrained from, and even withdrawn participation in, public petition in order to avoid being sued. We have seen that the underlying issues, of achieving affordable housing with existing housing stock, and preserving and promoting independent businesses, have been pushed from the public agenda, rearing themselves in narrow fashion in the form of the formula business ordinance, or in the case of affordable housing, being co-opted into a development agenda through the state housing element process. The specific policies raised in the initiatives have not seen the light of day. Nearly two years on, we as a community are paying the price.

For those interested in following this further, the oral argument is set for July 9, not July 11, in the state court of appeals in Ventura.

Anonymous said...

I am an attorney

Why is that lawyers let you know they are lawyers within two minutes of meeting them?:-)

First, Jeff refuses to do what the City Attorney requested, so in his opinion the City Attorney is wrong. Second, Jeff thinks the judge must be wrong for this appeal to move forward. And lastly, the City Attorney acted in the interest of the City of Ojai as he saw fit, it is not right to expect the City Council to override his legal opinion.

The ACLU has taken this pro bono, so Jeff's lawyers are free. The rest of us have to pay. Well, it is a legal matter now so we'll see how it shakes out.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 9:09 am says: "[t]he City Attorney acted in the interest of the City of Ojai as he saw fit, it is not right to expect the City Council to override his legal opinion."


Is it not right for the city council to have refused to get a second opinion, even when numerous citizens, some lawyers themselves, spoke up to advise doing just that?

After the city attorney's lawsuit was thrown out on its face, was it still not right for the city council to consider that his advice might possibly not have been the very best, and to consider getting a second opinion before committing the city to its appeal?

$78,000 later, the City lies exposed to a sanctions award that will likely dwarf Mr. Widders' bills. Its lawsuit, which it could easily have avoided, was thrown out as invalid on its face. And now Ojai taxpayers are footing the bill for an appeal that seeks to give new powers to city attorneys to stop initiatives in their tracks.

All because Monte Widders refused to perform his ministerial duty to provide ballot title and summary, as virtually every other city attorney does routinely and would have done in this case. (Go ask a city attorney from another city if you doubt.)

Last I checked, the City Attorney is not the king of Ojai. We are not his fief to do with as he will.

Anonymous said...

Now approaching legal expenses
from the range of 70K to $500K, City Attorney Monte Widder's pattern of running up litigation costs at the city's general fund expense begs the question for his
departure and start recall effort for councilmembers supporting and voting for this continued wasteful
woeful and willful sham. It is a costly game that's been running much too long. There goes the projected budget surplus when the council votes, as directed
by the city attorney. Mr. Widders has his cash cow at the expense of the general fund, and the council fails to understand the implications of further debt. PL

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous 9:09 AM:

Some people could have a nuclear bomb land on their front lawn, counting down from an hour until kaboom! And they still would not be impressed, and they still would not move off their porch to do something to save themselves.

If you don't smell the stench from after reading this article and Jeff's post, you never will.

You fault Jeff for saying he is an attorney. But you are predictable. If he had left that phrase out, and said he read the case Widders gave him, you would have faulted him for not being an attorney and attempting to read a case without the legal training. Can't win with you.

Come clean - you work for the city or Widders, you are Jere Kersnar, or you are on the council.

Nobody else would be so dense.

Anonymous said...

"Nobody else would be so dense."

Well, who would be so dense as to believe that anything said here (or on any blog) mattered one iota to the final outcome of a case like this one? If this was the place to solve this (or any other legal issue), then what's it doing in court? Why don't we just all save a bunch of taxpayer money and bash it out here? Does anyone here really believe that the appeals judge is going to read any of this and that it's going to affect his or her final decision?

As far as any of the commenters here being City employees or associates, I seriously doubt that anyone from the City of Ojai is responding here, assuming that any of them even read this blog.

Anonymous said...

Post 10:14 a.m. says:

"Last I checked, the City Attorney is not the king of Ojai. We are not his fief to do with as he will."

Actually, it is quite apparent that we are his fief to do with as he will. Witness this folly.

Anonymous said...

I believe city personnel often respond on this blog, but don't
have the courage to sign their name
or take a public stand, and their
reading and comprehension skills
on this issue has been far less than average!

Anonymous said...

Come clean - you work for the city or Widders, you are Jere Kersnar, or you are on the council.

I am the 9:09 AM poster. No, I don't work for the city or Widders. I don't work for Caltrans or Atheleye. I'm not in the new Ojai arts group trying to get a theatre. Just an Ojai resident who has opinions different than you.

There is an element of conspiracy, and delusion, in the posts of a few. Those few often seem to resort to personal attack (Nobody else would be so dense) and think they have cleverly 'discovered' some subterfuge (like Monte Widders being incompetent, or milking the city...never considering that he did what he thinks is right). Just pointing this out, in case those few were not aware of their pattern. I agree with the previous poster who said that few take this blog seriously, or as a bell-weather of public opinion.

I will leave with this: CEJ, ESQ has cost OUSD the $300,000+ needed, in order to fight for a high-minded principle. Jeff has also cost the city >$70K. They do have a right to their opinion and to make their points, but there is a real cost to us all. Whatever, it will be decided in court, and I'm sure we will continue these discussions.

Anonymous said...

I believe city personnel often respond on this blog

Well, of course you do. I'm sure you believe a lot of stuff.

but don't
have the courage to sign their name
or take a public stand

What was that you said, ANONYMOUS?

and their
reading and comprehension skills
on this issue has been far less than average!

Maybe you simply can't read and comprehend what others write, and you're just projecting your own shortcomings onto them?

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:16 -

Jeff did not cost the city $70,000+. That position is intellectually dishonest in the extreme. Likening Jeff to Kathy Elliot Jones and conflating her lawsuit against the OUSD with the SLAPP suit by the city is a calculated bit of propaganda on your part, and it betrays a serious lack of understanding. Perhaps you are just being deliberately obtuse because your position and "opinion" is untenable.

The law of the land is that city attorneys have no say at all on the content of initiatives. Sorry, but that's just the way it is. The city attorney has only a ministerial duty, therefore when he recommended to the city council that they take Jeff to court, and when the then city council subsequently voted to allow the law suit, they were engaging in a SLAPP. It makes no difference that some members of the city council claim they didn't know it was a lawsuit. We really should expect more of our elected representatives. To add insult to injury, when the case was thrown out of court on it's face, the then city council compounded their blunder by voting to allow the city attorney to file a cross appeal against the ACLU in appellate court!

The sum of $70,000+ you keep attributing to Jeff is what Mr. Widders and his firm are reaping for initiating and continuing to fight this egregious assault on our rights by the city. It is very likely that the appellate court will rule with the ACLU and the Initiative and Referendum Institute making the city liable for the legal fees of the ACLU. All this happened because the city council voted to sue Jeff, pure and simple.

Anon 9:16- if you are some of the other anon posters on this thread, you seem to have some sort of axe to grind with Jeff. Either that or you detest the direct democracy provisions of the constitution of the state of California that allow for initiatives and referendums. If the later is the case, I suggest you try to get your assembly person or state senator to amend our constitution. In the meantime you should really stop casting aspersions on a person who stood up for our constitutionally mandated rights in the face of a city attorney who is currently attempting to weaken those same rights. By the way, he's being paid handsomely with City money to do so.

Perhaps you are unaware of this, but Jeff will get absolutely nothing when the court rules against the city. Not one thin dime. He is not in this for money, in fact, he had to pay for his lawyers fees in the first round before the ACLU came in to protect the constitution of California. This fact puts the lie to the statement that the city didn't sue Jeff. If you are forced to be sitting in a courtroom paying a lawyer to fight a SLAPP, it's a lawsuit.


Anonymous said...

So, if either the City or Jeff lose on this appeal, can we expect this dog-and-pony show to go to the California Supreme Court? If anyone fails to get what they want there, is it going to go to the Supreme Court of the United States?

Anonymous said...

No. When the appellate court rules that the city performed a SLAPP, that will be the end of it. I seriously doubt the city council, sometime after the November elections, will vote to continue Widders' folly.

By the way, it would next go the the State Supreme Court, not the US Supreme Court. If by some unbelievable wave of stupidity the city did in fact vote to continue the case, it is unlikely the State Supreme Court would hear it. All of the precedents in the case are very clear.

The bottom line is, if you live in Ojai, your city's actions are being challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union! Does that really fit in with your vision of Ojai?

Anonymous said...

SPK and his one or two supporters still cling to the notion that this is where the issue will be decided. Ramble on, kids. Entertain yourselves. Practice your writing and arguing skills. In the end, this will all have mattered about as much as a high school debate.

Anonymous said...

May 9, 2008 12:26 PM:

I wrote this:

So, if either the City or Jeff lose on this appeal, can we expect this dog-and-pony show to go to the California Supreme Court?

Then, you wrote this:

By the way, it would next go the the State Supreme Court, not the US Supreme Court.

I hope that you weren't the person complaining about the reading and comprehension skills of others.

Anonymous said...

Thank you SPK and others.

Anon 9:16:

Reality can be a scary place. But that's no reason not to visit it sometimes.

REALITY: I have not cost the city one penny. The entire $78,000 and counting spent so far has been spent on Widders.

REALITY: Monte Widders could have performed his ministerial duty, as required by law, and chosen not to violate the Supreme Court's direct and clear holding requiring him to perform his duty. I doubt he could have billed the city more than a few hundred dollars if he had chosen to perform his duty.

Instead, he refused to perform his duty, and then sued me. As everyone should know by now, his lawsuit was thrown out of court as invalid on its face.

(Think about that. If Ms. Elliott-Jones filed lawsuit(s) that were thrown out on their face, I have no doubt as to how you would characterize her. Why the free pass for Mr. Widders? If you hired a builder, and the building he designed and constructed collapsed the first time the door is opened, tell me: Do you pay the builder? Do you give him more work, and pay him more money, to try to build something even bigger?)

REALITY: Right now, Ojai taxpayers are footing the bill for Monte Widders to prosecute an appeal that, if successful, would have the effect of giving a city attorney, acting alone, the power to block initiatives he doesn't like.

Because the Supreme Court has already ruled against Mr. Widders' position, and thanks to the ACLU and the IRI, we can cross our fingers that he will be unsuccessful. But tell me: Do you think Ojai taxpayers really want to be spending much needed funds creating a new power for city attorneys to squash citizen initiatives?

Why can't a bigger city fund this effort? Or one of the private developer groups that stand to benefit from such a rule? Why Ojai taxpayers?

REALITY: The legal case will not be decided on this blog, in any discussions in the community, or in any newspaper. Who ever said it would? What could and should be decided as a result of community discussions about this issue is, how will we hold city officials accountable, and how will we avoid this happening in the future?

I gather that is a conversation you do not want to have.

Finally, you fault me for standing up to defend your and my rights, at huge personal cost to me. All I can say is, I hope you would not do any differently if you were in my shoes.


Anonymous said...

Anonymous 12:10 and 12:39 asks how long this "dog and pony show" will go on.

The answer is, this and others like it will go on as long as the city council and citizens of Ojai continue to close their eyes and refuse to rein in their city attorney.

He should have been stopped before he filed the lawsuit. He certainly should have been replaced after having his lawsuit thrown out on its face. How pathetic is that? We pay the guy fees. Don't we deserve some minimum level of performance, i.e. lawsuits that can stand up on their face at least?

Sometimes you can rely on a person's own sense of dignity to rein in things like this. They resign, instead of being fired. Not here apparently.

Anonymous said...

Finally, you fault me for standing up to defend your and my rights

I think people fault you for arrogantly assuming that we couldn't defend ourselves in our own way and in our own time. Nobody hired you. Nobody asked you. Few, if any, are grateful. Do you doubt that? Do you want to collect some more signatures? Collect the signatures of all the registered Ojai voters who support your actions. How many people in Ojai will proudly stand up and say that they want to be saved by you? Not too many, from what I've seen and heard.

If you want to defend yourself, fine, but don't aggrandize yourself by saying that you're defending others as well. I'm guessing that there are at least 1700 people, based on the results of the last Council election, who would agree with me, assuming that any of them actually cared what you were saying and doing.

But, don't just take my word for it. Collect some more signatures.

Anonymous said...

The answer is, this and others like it will go on as long as the city council and citizens of Ojai continue to close their eyes and refuse to rein in their city attorney.

Perhaps, unlike the folks who have been here between 3 and 5 years and believe that they have all of the answers and that everyone else is stupid, the City Council and the citizens of Ojai take a broader view of Widders' performance and have decided that he's still far more of an asset than he is a liability, all mistakes considered.

Your incentive program, AKA "One mistake and you're through", hasn't impressed the voters to any great extent. Nice try, though.

Anonymous said...

Jeff needs to run for City Council. Win or lose, it would be a valuable education for him.

Run, Jeff, Run!

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:16- if you are some of the other anon posters on this thread, you seem to have some sort of axe to grind with Jeff
No, or with you SPK. I am the May 9 9:16 AM poster, also posting May 7 4:43 PM, and May 8 9:09 AM, I have no idea about who else posts.

There is apparently no room in your worldview for those who have a sincere disagreement; they must be shills, or have a conflict of interest, or intellectually dishonest. Or they get recalled or demanded to apologize, if they are City Council members. Or accused of incompetence, or unethically billing the City of Ojai by creating work for himself, if he is the City Attorney.

Everything has to be so dramatic with you and your clique, like you guys are the only ones who care or are sincere in your positions. Funny thing is, you probably think you are very tolerant and open-minded.

When I mention this expensive lawsuit (which could have been avoided if Jeff would have done as Widders asked), in conjunction with CEJ, ESQ, I am making a point. Rather than implying it, I will directly state it: butchers and bakers don't cause this type of commotion; it is lawyers who have this hammer in their figurative toolbox and immediately treat problems like a nail. Jeff and CEJ are entitled to do this, but it doesn't make it noble or right or a good use of (all of our) limited resources. We all pay a price when "problems" are addressed like this.

P.S. - I forgot to mention, I don't work for Golden State Water, either.

Anonymous said...

That was a nice breath of fresh air, anonymous @ 4:38 PM.

They (and you know who I mean) truly do not seem to get it. Sometimes, though, I wonder if they aren't the shills for someone or some group that wants to continue to fly well below the radar so as to not piss off anyone they might need to turn to in a pinch. That would cetainly fit with the underground Ojai politics and the several surreptitious unelected politicians that I know.

Anonymous said...

If a butcher or a baker were to have submitted those initiatives, he/she would have been sued by the city as well. The only difference is, if they had been threatened with a lawsuit by the city, they would probably have bowed under the pressure.

Once again, Jeff did not initiate this suit, he has had to pay a lawyer to defend against it. When the case by the city was thrown out, and the judge did not also rule it a SLAPP, the ACLU took it and appealed the lack of SLAPP judgement. That will probably be remedied by the higher court. We'll see.

Who's talking about Golden State Water, you'll have to pardon me, but you sound vaguely paranoid.

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:16:

Get what? Can you please spell it out for those of us not in the know?

And who do you mean?

Anonymous said...

Get what? Can you please spell it out for those of us not in the know?

And who do you mean?

Oh, pleeeeez.....

James Hatch said...


Putting your ego aside for a minute, if you had reworded the initiatives, would this matter be in court today?

Were these legislative pieces you were attempting to have passed by the voters or merely mission statements?

Let's face reality here.

Anonymous said...

No really. I'm anon 5:38 and I don't know what your are talking about. Is there some kind of evil cabal here?

Anonymous said...

If a butcher or a baker were to have submitted those initiatives, he/she would have been sued by the city as well.

But apparently librarians get a free pass. Go figure.

Anonymous said...

...or merely mission statements?

DING DING DING DING DING!! We have a winnah!

Anonymous said...

No really. I'm anon 5:38 and I don't know what your are talking about.

OMG!! anon 5:38! Really? I just love your work!

Is there some kind of evil cabal here?

I dunno. Where are you?

Anonymous said...

Oh now this is getting serious.
5:16-Anonymous postulates "they certainly fit with the underground Ojai politics and the several surreptitious unelected politicians that I know." So this is all conspiracy and subterfuge!Quick-CEJ must be behind it!Expense be damned- call in Homeland Security and the Minutemen! Inform the College Republicans!

Anonymous said...


boris beck said...

I'm voting for suza fransaia! She is europoean & the former mayor. She alos raises tea-cup poodles!!

Anonymous said...

May 9, 2008 5:30 PM If a butcher or a baker were to have submitted those initiatives, he/she would have been sued by the city
Only if they refused to do what the City Attorney requested, which non-lawyers wouldn't do without good reason.

Jeff did not initiate this suit
This is like the guy who steps in the boxing ring, and then complains to the ref, "Hey! The other guy hit me!" I wish Jeff well personally, and this is a legal matter that will now be settled in court. But it never should have got this far, and Jeff had control of the situation entirely.

Who's talking about Golden State Water
I'm goofin' on ya! You (or your boys) seem to run out of steam when dealing with the issue discussed, and have accused me (or another poster with a different opinion from you and the anointed) of working for GSWC, Caltrans, the city of Ojai, etc. I don't, and accusing others of being shills smacks of paranoia.:-)

Anonymous said...

What a bizarre slice of Ojai on this blog.

Perhaps one should admire the loyalty of some to our benighted city attorney. But it smacks more of a bizarre, reactive blind faith, of the Jim Jones school, which stands by their man to the bitter end.

This issue is not that difficult to understand. Go back to high school civics. In this country, the people enact legislation, directly by initiative or through their elected representatives in the legislature. The courts, in a proper case, then have the duty to pass on whether the laws enacted are constitutional.

Here, the city attorney decided a proposed law was "unconstitutional" all by himself, and then blocked it. He is not the legislature, and he is not a court. He can't do what he did.

When he then went to court to try to get the court to okay what he had done, the court threw him out. His lawsuit was invalid on its face.

He never should have threatened the lawsuit, and he never should have filed it.

As far as the pretext the city attorney used to block these initiatives - that they are not "legislation" - if a court actually had that question before it, the court would deal with the countless initiatives and laws on the books and enforced every day that share the exact same characteristic objected to by our city attorney. It seems unlikely a court would decide that a century's worth of initiatives and laws covering thousands of pages of statute books are invalid, because they called for an administrative or legislative body to perform studies or enact rules.

That question in any event is not before the court, because something much more basic is at stake. Whether or not a court would or would not rule these initiatives are valid, the city attorney has no power to do so on his own.

A quick search shows some of what the American Civil Liberties Union is working on right now: Guantanamo Bay. Illegal torture. Warrantless wiretapping. And Monte Widders blocking these initiatives in Ojai.

Is there really anything more to say?

Anonymous said...

Is there really anything more to say?

There was never really anything to say to begin with. Didn't stop you, though.

The ACLU defended the KKK, too, didn't they?

Anonymous said...

Fifteen months ago, here's one example of what our best citizens had to say about this issue:


That was when the cost of Widders' folly had been $20,000. Another $58,000 to Monte Widders later, what has changed? What has been accomplished?

Quite a few people attack the victim here. Can anyone explain what the city thinks it is accomplishing?

Anonymous said...

Can anyone explain what the city thinks it is accomplishing?

The job of the city attorney is to protect the city. I guess that's what Widders thought he was doing. According to an earlier OVN article, the first judge said that Widders was entirely within his rights to have refused to deal with the initiative as submitted, and that the lawsuit-which-was-not-a-lawsuit was not invalid, it was just not necessary. Widders could have just flat out said no and left it at that, according to the judge. I think that the majority of people who bother to think about this issue at all think that if JBF truly had the city's and the people's best interests at heart, he would have worked with Widders even if it galled him a bit to do so. Everyone I have ever talked with thinks that this is all just a bunch of showboating, grandstanding, and publicity seeking, and that if JBF had truly wanted to succeed he could have. It also seems to a lot of the people I've talked to as if he has something else up his sleeve, and that he did from the start. Otherwise, why not just do what he needed to do to make his "gift to the people" work if that was the most important thing of all? This idea has not been lost on most of the people in Ojai, but JBF still thinks he's a local hero of some sort and that he couldn't have done anything any better than he did it. He didn't make any mistakes, everbody else did. Whatever. To most of us, this just looks like a couple of lawyers who don't like each other, and a young and possibly inexperienced lawyer who got his feathers ruffled because the older lawyer didn't kiss his butt. I talked to him at the Farmer's Market and I didn't feel as if I was talking to a person who really cared about Ojai, I was just talking to someone who was using Ojai as a means to an end. Maybe Widders, after 25 years with the city and watching hundreds if not thousands of people bring their hopes and dreams to council meetings got the same impression and he allowed that impression to guide his actions. Above all else, the people of Ojai pay Widders to protect the city, and if that's what he thought he was doing, then I can't fault him. He didn't shoot JBF or ridicule him or try to publicly destroy him, he just told him to redo his homework and then turn it in again. I guess we'll see what the judge thinks.

Anonymous said...

Okay, that was long and sounded sincere. It offers an explanation of what the city attorney may have thought he was doing. And a whole bunch more blame and disparagement of the victim.

But, if protecting the city was the city attorney's goal, he has totally and utterly failed. To protect the city, he should have just done his job and given the title and summary. Isn't that obvious?Instead, he has cost the city a fortune, exposed it to far greater cost and sanction, and denied the people of our city a chance to consider the initiatives. Now we are embroiled in litigation against the ACLU.

For crying out loud.

Anyway, the question was not what the city attorney may have thought he was doing. Let's try again.

Quite a few people attack the victim here. Can anyone explain what the city thinks it is accomplishing?

Anonymous said...

Quite a few people attack the victim here. Can anyone explain what the city thinks it is accomplishing?
Really, how has JBF been victimized? His drama has victimized taxpayers, but the ACLU has covered his nut.

As far as trying to "explain", you are playing "stump the chump". Save us all some time and give us your omniscient answer, for whatever that's worth.

The real answer will be decided in court.

Anonymous said...

"And a whole bunch more blame and disparagement of the victim."

This keeps getting back to being all about some mythical victim or another, which is why you can't get any traction here or anywhere else in town. If you want to kiss somebody's owie for them, go right ahead. Fire up owie.blogspot.com and everyone else who wants to kiss the owie, too, can go there and bring flowers, chocolates, and mylar balloons. It'll be a great way to poll your support. The rest of us are mostly saying something like, "Wow, you kind of leaned right into that one even though you were warned not to, didn't you?" Nobody except for a very small group of people in town believe that anyone was victimized except for, maybe, the God of Common Sense. This was all brightly lit and neon painted cause-and-effect, and that's how most people see it and will continue to see it.

"Can anyone explain what the city thinks it is accomplishing?"

Since you can't seem to get the answer you're looking for, why don't you tell us what you think the city thinks it's accomplishing?


anon 12:34,
Jeffy is an international coffee artisian and locivore. He replensihes at the full bosom of the goddess moon....

Anonymous said...

The guy's a joke. He should have straightened his panties and moved on (or out of town.) You can't be a victim if you asked for it.

Anonymous said...

Interesting conclusion, are you from the Fatherland and Hitler youth? Sieg Heil!

Anonymous said...

are you from the Fatherland and Hitler youth? Sieg Heil!
Well, that was uncalled for, but not unexpected. (See Godwin's law http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin's_law )

Still not getting any love or traction for this cause, after playing the 'victim-card', the selfless martyr, accusing those who disagree of being shills, insulting city employees' intelligence, various straw men, and finally a fallacious comparison to Hitler.

Anonymous said...

if you ever get really bored, start at the most recent post on most any of the OVN or Ojai Post blogs and read them from most recent to the original post. it is pretty funny to see how far askew the rants go.

Anonymous said...

This guy's a joke! Way to go, Jeff, you're a moron. Way to waste taxpayers' money for your oversized ego.

shape-shifter said...

kia ora!

blessings from the ACLU!

as you bless our whole world.

and also to all those in our sacred Valley home,
who reside in consciousness, reside in loving respect of Earth Friend Jen's buttocks and Jeff's lawsuit!

Anonymous said...

“As far as trying to "explain", you are playing "stump the chump".”

I guess the chump is stumped. Can nobody offer an answer? Is namecalling the best the city attorney’s supporters can muster?

“The real answer will be decided in court.”

This keeps getting repeated. What could the court possibly say that would make what the city attorney has done any better? Even if the court ruled for the city attorney all the way down the line, the City of Ojai pays him a bunch of money for accomplishing nothing for us, except beating back an anti-SLAPP motion that could never have been brought if the city attorney had simply done his job. No matter what the court does, Ojai loses.

“… which is why you can't get any traction here or anywhere else in town.”

The Ventura judge threw Widders out on his face. The ACLU has come in. The IRI has come in. There is now a formula store ordinance.

That, friends, is the definition of traction.

On the Widders’ folly side, your “can’t do wrong” hero managed to pull something rare among lawyers, filing a lawsuit that was dismissed on a demurrer without leave to amend. For those of you who are vocabulary-challenged, that is something less than traction. It takes a pretty special lawyer to draft a complaint that is thrown out on its first go without leave to amend. (Unless, of course, its a SLAPP.)

"Wow, you kind of leaned right into that one even though you were warned not to, didn't you?... This was all brightly lit and neon painted cause-and-effect, and that's how most people see it and will continue to see it.”

Gosh, you know, if citizens who are threatened with lawsuits that are invalid on their face would just cow down and do what the would-be plaintiff – the one with the lawsuit that is invalid on its face – demands, we wouldn’t have these problems.

Hey, I kind of like the logic. If you’ll only tell me your name, I’ll threaten to sue you if you don’t give me all your money. Then if you don’t give me all your money, I’ll sue you. And if you don’t like that, its all your fault for not giving me all your money in the first place.

"Nobody except for a very small group of people in town believe that anyone was victimized...”

The very small group of people seems to be those supporting Widders, all anonymously on this blog. They appear to consist of one or two people who repeat themselves, then start namecalling. Meanwhile, look at the city council meeting video linked above. Look at the video of any of the meetings on these subjects, and you will see more of our best citizens than have turned out on any subject in the last two years coming in, stating their name and address, and telling the city council that it has blown it here.

And still, in all this, no answer to the question. Third time’s a charm, right? Never give up hope. Once more:

Quite a few people attack the victim here. Can anyone explain what the city thinks it is accomplishing?

Anonymous said...

Can anyone explain what the city thinks it is accomplishing?
Asked and answered. You just didn't like the answer.

Anonymous said...

Is it significant in any way that the word "lawyer" sounds so much like the word "liar"? Isn't law supposed to be about the truth, and not about who can tell the most successful lie, over and over and over and over again, without shame?

There was no SLAPP suit.

I see a lot of similarities between the 2006 "initiative" (and I use that word very loosely) supporters and the Save Our State people. They both came to town behaving as if they had a mandate and proceeded to act as if it was their duty to save us from our stupid selves, and they never missed an opportunity to remind us of how stupid they thought we were. They still haven't stopped. Neither group cared that less than one percent of the town's population admired them or had any real interest in their message or goals. They both created huge straw men and, metaphorically speaking, threatened to set fire to them in the middle of town if they didn't get their way. It was both sad and funny that some of these people actually got to meet each other face-to-face on the morning of the anti-immigrant protest, and that they were incapable of recognizing each other as soulmates. But, perhaps there was a reason that they were drawn together as they were on that morning. Fate offered them all the chance to experience a life-changing epiphany, and they all blew it, as far as I can tell.

I feel as if I have been listening to the tale of a man who demanded to walk his neighbor's dog after forcing his way into the neighbor's home, and then threw the dog into Lake Casitas, called 911 so that there would be a credible witness to him swimming back to shore with the abused dog, and then sued the dog owner after said owner refused to pay public tribute to the alleged rescuer of the victimized dog.

By the way, since the ACLU also defends groups like NAMBLA (the North American Man/Boy Love Association), it does not mean that they are actually on a person's side or that they admire that person or that person's tactics. Everybody gets a defense attorney, and there are lawyers who will take just about any kind of case if they think it will increase their street creds and their chances of getting hired for bigger and better cases.

And, one more time, although I know that the person who obviously has all the answers keeps refusing to answer this question: What do you think the City thinks it is accomplishing?

Anonymous said...

Why does this thread keep returning to the topic of the feelings of the person who originally pushed the initiative? Wasn't this supposed to be about something that was supposed to be good for Ojai? Where's the selflessness here? If there is any, I just don't see it. I just keep seeing comments about how someone is being disparaged. Well, so what? People disparaged Mother Teresa, and she just kept right on going. She never made her mission about her, and neither do other real givers. This seems to have all turned away from being about what's good for Ojai, and instead appears to have turned into a cult of personality, and just one man's personality, at that. If anyone had really wanted the initiative to succeed, they'd have done whatever it took to make that happen. Instead, it seems more as if someone just wanted to put on a big show and then act like a bird with a broken wing.

By the way, why does it seem as if there are, at the most, only 2 people here taking the side of the person who started this whole Punch & Judy show?

Anonymous said...

This guy is an absoulute joke, he's got nothing, and he knows it!

Go home! Ojai has enough freaks already and we don't need some jerk who whimpers like a baby sucking up tax dollars.

If it weren't for your ego, you would have refused the free services of a nominal group such as aclu.

Anonymous said...

"it seem as if there are, at the most, only 2 people here taking the side of the person who started this whole Punch & Judy show?"
Well golly gee whiskers! Chain stores and affordable housing might interest more than one or two, wouldn't you think?

Anonymous said...

This is the first time I've perused this blog in several weeks. It will be several more months before I get that bored again.

To SPK: I wouldn't know you if you walked in right now and made yourself comfortable on my sofa. But I would like to borrow a quote my Uncle Chock utilizes for puffed-up, rambling, pseudo-intellectuals like yourself: kiss my ass. My 16-year-old would kick your vapid buttocks in a debate, and do so with a polite smile on his face. My 18-year-old would also reduce you to rubble, but he wouldn't bother smiling while doing so.

To Jeff: Hang in there, because you are doing what you think is right. It takes a kind of courage most people do not possess to openly take a stand, and a few people on this post apparently envy you for doing so. I've never been sure that the Widders' move in your case was a SLAPP, but Riley's opinion was so convoluted that he seemed afraid. Why is that? I am rooting for you, and for some legal clarity, in the appellate court. Good luck.

And remember, Monte did file a SLAPP against Lisa Clark in the infamous arcade redevelopment case. He lost, as he lost his demurrer, his motion for summary judgment, and whatever else he could think of to throw Lisa out of court after Monte had decreed he could shut down her business whenever he felt like it. Jones & Briggs defended her for free, and Lisa won every time. I believe the city spent in excess of $200,000 on that folly.

I would ask SPK to tell me if he has ever stood up for someone without hiding behind a computer screen, but I'm more bored now than I was before I looked at this blog. Adios. There must be something on cable.

CEJ,ESQ, and psych major

Anonymous said...

Don't forget to add a $3 million
pricetag the city spent for Arcade renovation that no one really wanted or voted on, the downtown business owners were not in on except to get baracaded by construction, strange fountains no one wanted, and a dysfuctional public rest room.PL

Anonymous said...

Cathi E.
You have spawn?? Post pixs of Romulus and Remus!!
Signed , your undying public

Anonymous said...

Widders certainly did not do his homework looking into the case law precedents the US Supreme Court has decided. Shame on him!
I'm sure glad I don't live within the Ojai city limits. You people disgust me.

Anonymous said...

Whatever happened to this? Follow-up?