February 7, 2013
Since resigning his embattled post on the Monterey County Water Resources Agency board of directors, Steve Collins has been waging an uphill battle to clear his name. That battle absorbed yet another blow Feb. 1 when retired Monterey County Superior Court Judge Robert O'Farrell slapped Collins with the county's bill defending itself in his lawsuit against them.
The tab: more than $37,000.
Collins hasn't had steady work as a CPA since allegations came to light about him simultaneously working for RMC Water and Environment, a contractor on the now-defunct Regional Water Project, and serving on the county water agency.
He's pleading not guilty to dozens of criminal charges, mostly related to alleged grand theft from his long-time employer Ocean Mist Farms. As the preliminary hearing for that case proceeded, Collins' private defense attorneys, Michael Lawrence and Juliet Peck, took out two liens against Collins' Salinas home.
After Judge Pamela Butler determined prosecutors had sufficient evidence for a trial to proceed, Collins qualified for a public defender. His attorney, appointed Feb. 6, is San Francisco-based Michael Burt.
"I'm very pleased with this appointment," Collins says. “This gentleman has a wonderful resume.” Burt has more than 30 years of experience as a public defender in California, including in some high-profile local cases such as providing defense support to Jesse Crow, who was accused of murdering his wife and dumping her body in the San Francisco Bay. Crow, from Prunedale, later killed himself while being held in the county jail.
Collins declined to comment on his failure to appear to defend himself against the county's motion to collect attorney fees, but claims he never received a notice to respond.
"I believe the court’s rulings have been appropriate. I believe they’re consistent with the law, I believe they’re consistent with the facts," says attorney Mark Wasser, who represented the county in Collins' lawsuit.
That suit was thrown out after Wasser argued Collins was simply trying to smear county officials, and failed to produce adequate evidence.
In emails Collins forwarded to a number of supporters, he says Wasser scheduled the hearing on attorney fees at a time Collins couldn't physically appear in court, as he was already due to appear in criminal court at the same time.
"I was not present for this matter, so the Judge ruled in favor of the County," Collins wrote. "This is not a huge deal to me, but more emblematic of the larger issue of being 'David' when dealing with Goliath."
Wasser says he was willing to be flexible when it came to scheduling: "I think there was every effort made to accommodate him and for whatever reason he chose not to come."