A field sobriety test proved that Costa Mesa City Councilman Jim Righeimer had not been drinking last Wednesday when a 911 operator received a call from someone who said that he was driving under the influence.
At a news conference on Tuesday, Righeimer played a surveillance video that showed him being followed home that day by a private investigator with ties to a law firm that represented Costa Mesa’s police union. It turns out it was the investigator who made the 911 call and set him up.
The incident prompted an investigation by the Costa Mesa Police Department.
Local news from across Southern California
“The very nature of the fact that Mr. Righeimer was not under the influence and his statement that he wasn’t driving erratically has us looking into the motivations and nature of the call,” said Police Chief Tom Gazsi.
Costa Mesa council members accuse the Lackie, Dammeier and McGill law firm of intimidation tactics aimed at swaying elected officials into negotiating better deals with the police unions they represent.
The Costa Mesa Police Association announced it fired the law firm days after the incident.
Righeimer isn’t the only local elected official who claims to have been targeted by the law firm.
Buena Park councilman Fred Smith accuses the firm of using his city’s police officers to accuse him of a driving under the influence in 2010 on a night, he said, that he was not drinking.
“He says right off the bat, ‘I smell alcohol.’ And the next morning I get a call by a police officer, ‘Had enough yet?’” recalled Smith.
Smith said he later received threatening text messages about a grand jury investigation and just four days ago he said a Buena Park Police officer force a coffee shop owner to take down one of his campaign signs.
The law firm claims it’s the city officials who are using questionable tactics and responded to the allegations in a statement:
"When our clients are treated unfairly or unlawfully, yes, we are aggressive, within the limits of the law, to vindicate our client’s position.
"Below are some examples of 'tactics' used by various City Management that we have had to 'aggressively' deal with," it read, before listing 13 examples -- including unlawful diversion of funds from pensions toward pay raises for City Hall executives. The 14th example read: "Etc. Etc. Etc."
It continued, in part, to read:
"We will not apologize for 'aggressively' protecting those that put their lives on the line every day protecting all of us. We will continue to fight for our clients using every available legal tool at our disposal. When officials take actions that our clients feel deprioritize public safety, we will respond, in many cases publically, calling out the politicians on their actions.
"We should be fair and say that the above examples are not the norm but rather the exception, but it would be naïve of anyone to think that city and county officials never engage in questionable 'tactics' to achieve both political and personal goals. Most cities treat our clients fairly and lawfully, and there is a harmonious working relationship between management and rank and file. It is rather the rare exception that we find ourselves dealing with a City that simply cannot follow the law, or be fair and reasonable."