Thursday, October 15, 2009
The gloves are off in a lawsuit against Carmel-by-the-Sea.
In early September, the city asked Monterey County Superior Court to disqualify the attorney representing former Human Resources Manager Jane Miller in a legal complaint alleging sexual harassment and other inappropriate behavior by City Administrator Rich Guillen.
The city argues Monterey attorney Michael Stamp has an “ethical conflict of interest” because he represented the city in various personnel matters from 1985 to 2002, and had access to confidential information relevant to Miller’s case. “Among other things, he advised the city on the very sexual harassment policy upon which this lawsuit is based,” the motion states.
A supporting declaration by Assistant City Administrator/City Clerk Heidi Burch – one of two employees implicated in Miller’s lawsuit for allegedly having an inappropriate relationship with Guillen – states she found and reviewed the files regarding Stamp’s prior representation of the city, including a 2001-02 matter involving an employee accused of “inappropriate treatment of female employees.”
Stamp’s Oct. 8 response slams the apparent conflict of interest, stating: “The city’s meager showing – an interested person’s unqualified conclusions about what unidentified documents ‘reflect’ – falls far short of the… direct evidence required by law.” Stamp notes he’d been working on the Miller case for 16 months, and represented numerous other city employees for seven years, before the city submitted its disqualification motion. Such motions, he writes, “are frequently misused as a litigation strategy and deprive the client of the attorney of her choice.”
Both Stamp and Liebert Cassidy Whitmore’s Suzanne Solomon, representing the city, declined comment.
Stamp’s response offers a timeline of Miller’s formal complaint, which began with a May 2008 letter to the City Council. Stamp alleges City Attorney Don Freeman did not deliver a promised response on the matter and that the city failed to act for three months. In August 2008, Danville attorney Karen Kramer advised Stamp LCW had retained her to investigate Miller’s claims. (Neither Freeman nor Kramer could be reached for comment.)
When Kramer and LCW failed to address Stamp’s questions about “the privacy, the scope and the lack of independence” of the investigation, Miller decided not to participate in an interview, Stamp states.
The city’s investigator didn’t interview most of the people suggested by Miller and apparently didn’t obtain “more than one hundred non-work-related emails” from Guillen to Miller, Stamp alleges, questioning Kramer’s conclusion that Guillen only sent Miller “sporadic” personal messages.
The city’s attorneys have been reluctant to release documents related to the case, denying about half the Weekly’s 18 public records requests. Burch, “Female B” in Miller’s lawsuit, is identified as the city staffer responsible for the denials. LCW rejected the Weekly’s request that someone else be assigned to the public records response. But the exhibits in Stamp’s opposition include several records LCW denied the Weekly:
• A May 20, 2008 letter from Stamp to the City Council outlining Miller’s complaint;
• A May 23, 2008 letter from Guillen to Miller, ordering her back to work;
• An Oct. 17, 2008 letter from Stamp to the City Council, alleging the city didn’t appropriately respond to Miller’s complaint;
• An Oct. 23, 2008 letter from Jane Miller to the City Council, describing Guillen’s alleged inappropriate behavior toward his female subordinates;
• Communications between Stamp, Kramer and LCW regarding the city’s investigation into Miller’s complaint;
• A Jan. 12, 2009 letter from Stamp to LCW attorney Rick Bolanos, alleging Burch had violated protocol by directly contacting Miller and making retaliatory demands on the city’s behalf. “The evidence is overwhelming that Ms. Burch has been the beneficiary of Mr. Guillen’s actions,” Stamp writes. “It is hard to imagine a more inappropriate person to be designated to give orders and impose deadlines on Ms. Miller.”
Other records obtained by the Weekly further support the lawsuit’s claims.
Miller’s June 2009 complaint alleges Guillen had inappropriate relationships with former Community Services Director Christie Miller (no relation) and Burch, rewarding them with raises and promotions, and that he retaliated against female employees (including Jane Miller) who did not return his advances.
The city denied all allegations in a July 17 response.
Personnel documents confirm Christie Miller’s pay increased steeply under Guillen’s supervision. She was hired as an office assistant in March 1998 at an hourly rate equivalent to about $19,000 per year; only volunteer experience was listed on her résumé. When Guillen began as city administrator in October 2000, Miller was earning about $41,000 annually under the supervision of the Sunset Center director. In July 2003 Guillen promoted Miller to Community Services Manager; subsequent raises were both requested and approved by Guillen. Her final raise in October 2007 (retroactive to July) brought her salary to almost $104,000 – an 82 percent increase in four years. She retired in August 2008.
Burch was hired as city clerk in August 2005, with two master’s degrees and executive management experience, at almost $65,000 per year. Her subsequent raises were all requested and approved by Guillen. In March 2007 her title was expanded to include Assistant City Administrator. By March 2008 her salary had jumped to almost $110,000 – a 69 percent boost in less than three years.
By contrast, Guillen increased Jane Miller’s pay by about 9 percent over four years, and Police Chief George Rawson’s by less than 30 percent since 2001.
Several former employees who spoke with the Weekly on condition of anonymity supported the allegation that Guillen forced out senior employees who fell out of his favor. Aside from Jane Miller, at least six staffers took early retirement during Guillen’s tenure: the former library director, assistant city administrator, Sunset Center director, financial services coordinator, public works director and executive assistant. The city settled with the six – four of whom were represented by Stamp – for roughly $800,000 total.
The hearing on Carmel’s motion to disqualify Stamp is set for Oct. 23.