SOCC CELEBRATES VICTORY IN COURT
In the first lawsuit ever filed to hold commissioners accountable for violating the Coastal Act's ex parte rules, the court has issued a final ruling in SOCC's - i.e., the public's favor. Even though the five defendants had t he full weight and resources of the Attorney General's Office defending them, the court refused to let anyone off the hook.
In doing so, the court sent a powerful message to current and future members of the Commission. It said in essence: "You've been warned about the importance of complying with the ex parte rules. Any commissioner who breaks those rules in the future should expect to be fined up to the maximum."
FIVE COASTAL COMMISSIONERS ORDERED TO PAY OVER $959,000 FOR ATTORNEY FEES AND COURT COSTS IN ANTI-CORRUPTION LAWSUIT, MORE THAN $1 MILLION OVERALL
On September 7, 2018, in a detailed 12-page ruling, the Superior Court rejected the defendants' request against SOCC to pay the Attorney General's Office in excess of $649,000. In the same ruling, the Court ordered the defendants to pay in excess of $959,000 to cover SOCC's court costs and attorney fees. According to the Court, "[t]he main litigation objective pursued by plaintiff in this action was to shed light on lax ex parte disclosure practices at the Commission. This objective was met, with the court finding violations by each of the defendant Commissioners and awarding substantial penalties against each of the defendant Commissioners. Plaintiff's then-nascent lawsuit was likely an impetus for the 2016 changes in Commission procedures which were discussed in the [Court's final statement of decision]." "We are grateful that the judge recognizes the extraordinary public service this all-volunteer organization has provided and the tremendous risk we took in doing so," said SOCC president Kathryn Burton. "Because the Attorney General's Office refused to enforce the law, SOCC had no choice but to act. Standing up to unethical public officials is never easy, but it was the right thing to do. And when we saw the Attorney General's Office take the defendants' side instead of the public's side, this confirmed that SOCC had done the right thing."