(March 6, 2007) -- In a jarring conclusion to a City Hall lawsuit that utility tax cut co-author and former Mayoral candidate Norm Ryan called a smear that affected the outcome of LB elections, the City Attorney's office has dismissed a civil suit that alleged Mr. Ryan failed to produce documents sought by now-former City Auditor Gary Burroughs to confirm that Ryan's 2002 Mayoral campaign against then-incumbent Beverly O'Neill received contributions entitling it to $60,000 in public matching funds under LB's Prop M.
Mr. Ryan challenged then-Auditor Burroughs' authority to demand the documentation, which Burroughs requested and received from other candidates who took public matching funds during that election cycle. In 2005, then-Auditor Burroughs agenized a City Council item citing Mr. Ryan's failure to comply with his office's demand. The City Attorney's office then filed suit against Mr. Ryan, upping the ante by contending that Ryan's failure to produce the documents requested entitled City Hall to treble damages, alleging civilly that Ryan had illegally obtained matching funds.
On March 1, 2007, the City Attorney's office dismissed the lawsuit...in which trial was scheduled to begin on March 12.
City Attorney Bob Shannon told LBReport.com that the suit was dismissed because Mr. Ryan turned over the documents requested (minus contribution checks Mr. Ryan said he no longer has) after a Court of Appeal and trial court upheld City Hall's authority to seek the materials.
And in a further jarring development, City Attorney Shannon said the City retained an independent consultant to examine the materials provided by Mr. Ryan and the consultant concluded that what the Ryan campaign did regarding the matching funds was probably adequate under Prop M after all.
"If Mr. Ryan at the outset had turned over the documents that he eventually did, all of this drama would not have occurred," City Attorney Shannon said.
Saying he turned over the documents in 2006 -- before the November election in which he sought reelection to public office -- Mr. Ryan told LBReport.com that he's maintained from the outset that City Hall's legal action was a smear targeting him...and charged that the lawsuit affected the outcome of the April 2004 3rd district City Council race (in which Ryan didn't make the June runoff by a handful of votes) and harmed his 2006 reelection bid for reelection to the Water Replenishment District Board.
Noting that news accounts repeatedly cited the City Hall lawsuit in covering the races and in editorials endorsing his opponents, Mr. Ryan said, "I did polling [in the 3rd district Council race] before they filed the lawsuit, and then near election...and I significantly underperformed after they filed the lawsuit," Mr. Ryan said. He added, "I can name a string of people who'd been my supporters in previous endeavors who suddenly wanted nothing to do with me after City Hall filed that civil suit against me."
"Once City Hall did its political damage and I was out of office, there was nothing else they could do and so they dismissed the case," Mr. Ryan said.
City Attorney Shannon said the court rulings effectively upheld the City's authority to see the documents requested when public money is involved. He added that "if another candidate in the 2008 election cycle [receiving matching funds] tries to withhold such materials if they're requested, the City Attorney's office would sue that individual as well."
Other names have changed since the suit against Mr. Ryan was filed. Then-City Auditor Gary Burroughs who sought the documents was defeated in April 2006 by Laura Doud...and in 2002, Ms. Doud was the campaign treasurer for Norm Ryan's Mayoral campaign...documents from which now-former Auditor Burroughs had requested.
Mr. Ryan told LBReport.com that he believes this development made the lawsuit even more problematic for City Hall, since it could involve his then-Treasurer, now-City Auditor Doud.
City Attorney Shannon audibly bristled at the suggestion, his voice dropping in tone as he said, "If anyone thinks I'd carry water for a City Auditor, past or present, they don't know me very well."
City Attorney Shannon said Mr. Ryan's stance on the documents meant LB taxpayers ended up paying to file the lawsuit and then pursue it...and during the litigation, Mr. Ryan [through his then-lawyer] took a number of failed actions that further increased the City's litigation costs, even proving costly to Mr. Ryan personally with sanctions on Ryan ($850) and his then-lawyer ($1,700).
Mr. Ryan notes that this occurred under his now-former lawyer, since replaced, and adds that he (Ryan) paid the sanction on him personally immediately on learning it was due. Mr. Ryan said he found it significant that the City Attorney's office didn't ask for the documents; former City Auditor Burroughs' office did. "If the City Attorney's office had asked for the documents, they would have had to tell me exactly why," Mr. Ryan said. "Instead, the City Attorney's office filed the lawsuit when I simply asked them to provide a citation to authority entitling them to the documents they demanded," Mr. Ryan said.
Two courts then upheld that City authority and Mr. Ryan then complied.
Just over six years after LB voters by a near-70% margin enacted a petition-initiated utility tax cut that he championed -- after City Hall claimed he failed to submit sufficient petition signatures, then tried to use utility bill inserts to justify continuing the 10% tax (the inserts stopped by a court) -- and four years after he won election to public office, Norm Ryan now finds himself out of office...and with fewer resources to show for it.
Mr. Ryan told LBReport.com that he hopes to recover his costs and attorneys fees for having been put through the litigation wringer.
City Attorney Shannon said: "What Mr. Ryan incurred were basically self-inflicted wounds [by not providing the materials requested]." Senior Deputy City Attorney Monte Matchit said awarding attorneys fees is discretionary with the court and indicated the City would oppose granting Mr. Ryan those fees as well as other costs.