By Jeremiah Dobruck
6:14 PM PST, November 13, 2013
Two Costa Mesa city councilmen claimed in court papers Wednesday that their political opponents spied on them by attaching a tracking device to one of their cars during 2012's election season.
Someone allegedly placed a GPS monitor on the undercarriage of Councilman Steve Mensinger's truck — frequently charging or downloading data from it — and used it to follow his whereabouts until August 2012, according to allegations found in documents filed in Orange County Superior Court.
When the device was allegedly attached and detached isn't clear.
This claim is the latest addition to Mayor Pro Tem Mensinger and Mayor Jim Righeimer's lawsuit against the Costa Mesa Police Officers' Assn.; the Upland law firm Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir; and Menifee-based private investigator Chris Lanzillo.
The pair say the three entities conspired to intimidate and harass them for political gain.
The complaint points to a playbook posted on Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir's website laying out aggressive tactics for police union contract negotiations including a passage suggesting, "The association should be like a quiet giant in the position of, 'do as I ask and don't piss me off.'"
The law firm and Costa Mesa's police association have denied any wrongdoing.
Det. Sgt. Ed Everett, the police association's president, said his organization had no knowledge of the alleged tactics like GPS tracking.
"That is unfortunate, if it happened, and I can say the association was not involved with it," he said Wednesday. "It is interesting that was not included in the original complaint."
Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir had represented Costa Mesa's police union, but was fired in August 2012.
Vince Finaldi a partner at Manly, Stewart and Finaldi, the firm representing Mensinger and Righeimer, said they originally weren't aware of any GPS device.
They learned of the alleged tracking from the district attorney's office, which is conducting its own investigation, Finaldi said.
A spokeswoman for the D.A. could not be reached early Wednesday evening.
The FBI too is looking into the case, according to the complaint.
"This is a very sophisticated conspiracy," Finaldi said, calling the GPS allegations "straight out of the Watergate diaries."
Representatives for Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir did not return a call and emails sent Wednesday afternoon.
The amended lawsuit claims it was the GPS device that led private investigator Lanzillo to Councilman Gary Monahan's Costa Mesa bar, Skosh Monahan's, in August 2012.
From the bar, Lanzillo followed Righeimer and called 911 to report a potential drunk driver who was allegedly driving erratically and speeding down a residential street. Lanzillo didn't identify the driver as Righeimer and has not revealed who he was working for that night.
A police officer responded to his call and administered a sobriety test in front of Righeimer's Mesa Verde home.
The officer found Righeimer wasn't impaired.
The next morning at a press conference, the mayor produced receipts for a pair of Diet Cokes from the bar.
Righeimer's wife is also named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit. She alleges Lanzillo almost hit her with his car as the private investigator sped off from the Righeimers' home that night.
The lawsuit asks for damages and an order to bar the defendants from similar tactics in the future.
A response from the defendants in October said the councilmen were trying to muzzle their political opponents with the lawsuit and snuff out their 1st Amendment rights to criticize public officials.
"The fact that [plaintiffs] may not like the 'playbook,' or may find the strategies aggressive, does not render the strategies illegal or actionable," the response stated.
In 2010, Righeimer campaigned on a platform of reigning in public employee costs, which the police association denounced.
Mensinger, a Righeimer ally, won his first full council term in 2012. He had been appointed to the seat when former Councilwoman Katrina Foley was elected to the school board. If he had lost the election, it could have changed a 3-2 vote divide on the council, where Righeimer has the majority.