Second Thoughts: Lone man’s long City Hall tango ends in court
by Jon Mendelson
Oct 05, 2012 | 4490 views | 12 12 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
STOCKTON — On Sept. 26 in the superior courtroom of Judge Michael D. Coughlan, one Tracy man’s long slog against City Hall apparently came to a close, the anticlimactic end of a four-year showdown.

Coughlan dismissed a lawsuit Paul Miles brought against the city, saying Miles’ numerous complaints — including violations of the Public Records Act and Brown Act, an open-meeting law — were improper and unfounded.

Miles has publicly sought investigations into the behavior of police officers, two police chiefs and the city manager. He fought a one-man battle to, in his words, “see that the law is obeyed and our public officials are held accountable.”

He has repeatedly taken to the podium at City Council meetings to excoriate the highest levels of city management and elected leaders for their alleged complicity in what Miles called a “classic cover-up attempt.”

Miles was one voice speaking for openness at City Hall — the type of stirring underdog story that rouses those who demand good government.

But according to the district attorney’s office and Coughlan, Miles’ crusade never had much cause in the first place.

It all began in June 2008, when Miles’ son was in a bicycle accident. Miles found fault with a Tracy police officer’s representation of facts regarding the incident.

He was then dissatisfied with an investigation he requested into the officer who oversaw the report — Miles says there is proof the police department’s internal investigator misrepresented facts about the review and left out evidence relative to Miles’ complaint.

That led to at least two internal investigations, as Miles alleges former police Chief Janet Theissen and her replacement, Chief Gary Hampton, helped protect the internal investigator and ignored department policy.

Neither investigation concluded in Miles’ favor. Miles claimed a conflict of interest and a failure by the city to respond in a timely fashion.

The district attorney’s office then refused his request for an outside inquest, Miles said, and the attorney general’s office apparently passed, as well.

So Miles turned to the civil justice system, which is how he found himself last week before Coughlan and across from Richard Osman, an attorney from Bertrand, Fox & Elliot representing the city.

Not a lawyer by training, Miles presented court filings that were eloquent and extensive.

But they didn’t persuade Coughlan. He said that by asking him to act where the district attorney had not and to mandate new investigation guidelines for Tracy, Miles was asking the court to usurp the power of the government’s executive branch.

“I’ve never seen this happen before,” Coughlan said. “I do not believe I have the authority to override the D.A.”

He added later, “I just don’t legally see a basis for the petition.”

In court, Coughlan upheld the city’s version of the story — that the police agreed there were inaccuracies in the original report, but that there was no intent on the part of the city to deceive.

The judge dismissed Miles’ complaint that the city withheld public records rather than redacting and releasing the documents.

Coughlan also ruled that the city didn’t violate the state open-meeting law, though Miles alleged the city took action in closed session that wasn’t accurately described on the closed-session agenda.

City Manager Leon Churchill said the week after Coughlan’s ruling that the city did all it could to try and satisfy Miles.

Churchill said the city spent somewhere around $50,000 on investigations at Miles’ request. Churchill called it “a great expense to the Tracy taxpayer.”

Coughlan’s ruling appears to be the final step of Miles’ tango with Tracy, and the city must be relieved to be off its feet.

For Miles, the decision was having the last open door replaced by a brick wall.

Outside the courtroom, a stunned Miles said he was “just trying to hold people accountable.”

“My concern is that nothing is going to change,” he said.

It’s difficult to find a more noble cause than good government. Without accountability, government ceases to function for the public, instead enriching its own members and those in their favor.

Those like Miles who pursue accountability deserve applause. I’d even call such people patriots — government at all levels needs people who will rattle the cage and remind officials that it’s citizens who are supposed to run the show.

But sometimes even an effort based on best intentions can become a tilt at windmills.

Coughlan and the district attorney’s office are hardly the ultimate arbiters of right and wrong. However, if you take them at face value, the city has been vindicated.

I have a great deal of respect for what Mr. Miles tried to do.

But in light of last week’s ruling, it would be hard to consider further action on his part as anything other than an obsession.

• Second Thoughts is a personal opinion column by Editor Jon Mendelson. Share your thoughts at jmendelson@tracypress.com.
Comments
(12)
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debbdaves
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October 12, 2012
oh no, a judge vindicated the former chief? how could he?
Realintracy
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October 11, 2012
Rhcp,

The word "Stockton" as it appears as the first word in the article would indicate the location. Additionally, the reference to a superior court judge would indicate that it was heard in court. Since there is no longer a court in Tracy, that would be a second clue. Perhaps you should pay more attention and stop excoriating Mr. Mendelson for not writing with crayons on a blackboard so you could understand simple English.
RedHotChilliPeppers
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October 12, 2012
Realintracy,

It is actually printed, "STOCKTON".

So he was fighting the "Stockton", "city-hall", "city-hall", "city-hall" ?

Silly me. Here I thought it was played out before a judge at the "STOCKTON" Courthouse?

Ornley_Gumfudgen
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October 08, 2012
Let me see if I understand this correctly.

Thair was an allegation th City did somethang illegal. It was addressed to th City an th City didn't feel th same way. It was then taken ta court fer a determination an th court decided in favor of th City.

Yep it can go further up th judicial ladder, th judicial appeals process, if one feels th initial judicial decision on th matter is incorrect an that decision might change.

But since th matter was decided by a third party arbitration, th court, how does that make th City wrong?

Are we now saying the county judicial system insulates the City from its wrongdoins? If that is the case then th problem, in this particular case, lays with th Judicial system an not th City don't ya thank?

I am quite certain the majority of litigants that receive an unfavorable decision frum th courts all feel they have been short changed an th jails are full of people who are innocent of thair crimes.

People should be held accountable but in this case th judicial system found no fault on th part of th City. No doubt if th decision had gone another way th City would be complainin about th outcome an others supportin Mr. Miles would be happy.
bobrod
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October 08, 2012
Oh yes, what you say may be true sometimes. Unfortunately for Mr. Miles, the court ruled for the City. The cruel fact of the matter is, he has valid complaints and fact to back it up with. Anyone who believes that government and or the courts are never wrong is a fool. The City of Tracy government could care less if one of their departments screw up, after all thats why they are self-insured-because they are never wrong-are they?
tracyresdnt
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October 09, 2012
It seems like the judge agreed with Miles but the judge found in favor of the city only because he didn't feel that he had the authority to override the DA. That seems silly. Perhaps Miles, not asking for $$, was asking for the wrong type of judgement? Perhaps the Judicial system only understands financial compensation rather than actually fixing problems with their rulings. Our Judicial system in my opinion is a cluster---k. Somehow we need to start judging the judges. And perhaps the PD should bear the burden of the $50k defense expenditure. Mayor??
Ornley_Gumfudgen
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October 11, 2012
tracyresdnt

Well if Mr. Miles feels that way thair still th appeals process.

If he was askin fer th wrong type of judgement who's fault is that, th court's?

Tell me is th court ta be clairvoyant an just automatically know what it's bein asked ta adjudicate?

In th courtroom of yer own household what do ya say when someone says, "I wanna do somethang," you provide em somethang ta do an they reply, "No, I wanted ya ta take me ta th theater?"

I am bettin ya would say, "Well that's what you should have said in th first place."

Why didn't ya have th clairvoyance ta automatically know that when ya were asked ta do somethang they were really askin ya if ya would take em ta th theater?

How can a judge decide on matters when he doesn't know what those matters are? If Mr. Miles didn't tell em an wants ta pursue th matter he can.

But why should th citizens of Tracy fork over $50K ta pay his expenses when, according ta ya, he may have asked fer th wrong judgement?

When I make a mistake can I ask you ta pay fer it? If ya agree will ya please send me a certified check in th amount of $34k cus I just lost a court battle that went against me because of a mistake I made an I walked away knowin that because of my mistake th court rendered a decision unfavorable ta me when I thought it should decided in my favor.

I could appeal but I am already out th $34K an frankly I don't want ta risk throwin any more money away.

Ornley_Gumfudgen
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October 11, 2012
bobrod

It's clear frum yer statement ya obviously don't really understand how th City is insured.

Self insured congers up a notion that th City is alone in th transaction. Nope, not true.

If ya bother ta check th facts ya will quickly larn that th City pays inta a fund with a lot of other cities close ta th same size an any insurance types of issues are paid fer out of that common fund.

As such thair's a group that represents all of those cities ta ensure that th claims made against th fund are valid an then pays th claim. Now th City might squeak by once or even twice if it pays out a claim against it whair it could have prevented what ever it was that brought on th claim. But like with any insurance company, if they are caught doin it whair they are always wrong because they failed ta do everythang in it's power ta mitigate th issue it wouldn't take very long fer th rest of th cities that pay inta this self insurance fund ta give th City of Tracy th boot an then th City of Tracy would have ta find a more expensive method ta insure itself.

But even if th City had th cash layin around ta enable it ta truly be self insured in th way yer thankin, it's not a bottomless pit an really belongs ta th Citizens of Tracy as it is thair fer thair benefit if needed.

They are self insured because it's a cheaper way to get th same insurance coverage not because they never make mistakes an can just draw on a monetary bottomless pit of money they print in some basement somewhare.

An no, I don't work fer th city or represent anyone other than myself. Can I help it though if I took th time ta discover how such thangs work?
tracyresdnt
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October 11, 2012
OG, when I said he may have asked for the wrong thing, what I intended that to mean was that if he asked for $$$, instead of corrective action, the Judge may have understood how to rule in his favor. What it seems he wanted, and would have been satisfied with, was for the PD to change their investigation guidelines. But Judges only seem to undertand how to award $$ rather than using their authority to actually help fix a problem. make sense?
bobrod
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October 11, 2012
Cornley

Thank God we have you to answer all of our questions concerning City government and law suits. Sounds like you are a real important person in our little community. The rest of us don't know nuthn cordin to you so why don't you take some time off from the bloggin circuit, count to ten, take a pill and chill. Im sure Boston, and the rest of the world can wait till you come back. The truth is you are so long winded and booring that most of us are making comments to you to see if you are answering in 50-500 words per blog.
bobrod
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October 06, 2012
Kudo's for Mr. Miles for having the courage to bring his complaint to light, and taking the time to follow-up and go to court. I am afraid the only lesson learned here is that in the city of Tracy, you can't fight city hall. I encourage all registered voters to read all they can about situations like Mr. Miles' and to make an effort to use the democratic process to get rid of the narcissistic element in City Hall. Use your vote to send your own message.
RedHotChilliPeppers
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October 11, 2012
bobrod,

Jon Mendelson may have used the words "city hall" many many more times, but never told us if this actually played out in another city at the County Courthouse ,for some unknown reason?


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