Costa Mesa councilman victim of bogus drunken driving complaint

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COSTA MESA (CNS) – Costa Mesa City Councilman Jim Righeimer, who says he was the victim of a bogus drunken driving complaint meant to embarrass him during labor negotiations with a police union, plans to publicly discuss his complaint today along with other area elected officials he says were similarly targeted.

A man who called 911 last week to report Righeimer was driving while intoxicated identified himself as Chris Lanzillo, a former Riverside police officer who has worked as a private investigator for the law firm that, until last week, represented the Costa Mesa Police Association, the union for the city’s police officers, the Daily Pilot reported.

Messages left with the law firm — Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir — and the union were not immediately returned.

Attorney Dieter Dammeier denied in an email to the Daily Pilot that Lanzillo was authorized to conduct any surveillance of Righeimer, the newspaper reported.

Righeimer will hold a news conference in front of City Hall late this morning, flanked by Fullerton Councilman Bruce Whitaker, Buena Park Councilman Fred Smith, Irvine Councilman Jeff Lalloway and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R- Huntington Beach. He says some of these officials have been the targets of the same law firm as he.

“We’re going to talk about their run-ins with this law firm and what needs to be done to stop it,” Righeimer said before the news conference.

“This law firm is unbelievable,” Righeimer said, accusing it of using litigation to bully municipalities during labor negotiations.

“This is not about a misdemeanor,” Righeimer said. “It’s about the corrupt practices of a firm that is shaking down officials to make them vote against their residents, the taxpayers.”

A police officer came to Righeimer’s home Wednesday shortly after he arrived home from Skosh Monahan’s restaurant and asked if he had been drinking. Police had received a call that he stumbled out of the restaurant, which is owned by fellow City Councilman Gary Monahan, and was driving drunk, he said.

At a Friday news conference, Righeimer showed reporters his receipt from the restaurant, which showed he bought two Diet Cokes.

Righeimer said that behind the bogus call to police was a dispute between the city and labor leaders over pension benefits for newly hired police officers. Union officials want new hires to receive 90 percent of their salary after they retire at age 50, but city officials favor 81 percent of salary at a retirement age of 55, Righeimer said.

Righeimer has led an effort to privatize city jobs to cut pension costs. The council placed a measure on the November ballot asking voters to make Costa Mesa a charter city, which would give city officials more authority to set lower wages for city workers and privatize more jobs.

Righeimer has also voted for an ordinance making the process of labor negotiations more public.

The union representing city workers filed a lawsuit to block the outsourcing of city jobs.

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