Editor’s note: The following e-mail from Huntington Beach City Councilmember Keith Bohr was sent to City Attorney Jennifer McGrath, other members of the City Council and other city officials on Aug. 12 as a response to McGrath’s previous e-mail questioning the eligibility of her election opponent, T. Gabe Houston. In his e-mail, Bohr chastises McGrath for allegedly breaking a promise not to oppose turning the City Attorney’s office into an appointed rather than elected position. He also questions her integrity and motives for challenging Houston’s credentials.
The e-mail has not been revealed to the general public but was obtained from a source by the Surf City Voice. Because it relates to the issues raised and examined in the first two parts of our series “Who Will Control Surf City?” we are publishing it in its entirety.
The Voice asked Ms. McGrath to reply; she did, and her reply is published in full at the end of Bohr’s e-mail.
The photos were added by the Voice.
Subject: Re: Verification of Certified Law Student Status
Dear Madam Elected City Attorney,
Once again I find your actions to be quite contrary to what you have said in the past. In 2002, when we were both campaigning and you asked for my support of your first campaign for City Attorney, I asked if elected will you support or at least not oppose a move to amend the City Charter to make the City Attorney an appointed rather than elected position and you answered in the affirmative. We discussed the reasons I believe it should be appointed as it is in all Orange County cities and the vast super majority of cities in California and across the United States and you concurred. Let me note that this has never been about who is or has been the elected city attorney, but the fact that there is little to no accountability for an “elected” city attorney, especially if they are not challenged at election time. Further the pool of those eligible to run for city attorney just by having a residency requirement alone allows for little to no viable competition for an incumbent. Since that time as thee “elected” city attorney you have very much changed your tune.
Shame on me for taking you at your word.
In fact, you very aggressively campaigned/lobbied and even spoke to the Charter Review committee as a member of the public during the public comments portion of their meetings on the subject. You argued against the proposal to revise the charter from changing from elected to appointed city attorney, after which presenting such testimony you went and sat back down as the City Attorney staffing said Charter Review committee. At the very minimum it seems you would have demonstrated the “integrity” to have somebody else from your office staff the Charter Review committee given you knew it would be discussing this issue that clearly presented a “conflict” for you or at the very least the “appearance” of a “conflict.”
Okay, let me for a minute give you the benefit, despite my doubt that you did truly have an epiphany and for some reason other than your own job security, you really believe HB residents are best served by an elected City Attorney.
That then begs the question why are you so afraid of having to “run for re-election?” You really shouldn’t have it both ways if the system is going to work best for our residents should you? Do you really think you should be able to be elected every four years without having to campaign and make the case that your performance as our “elected” city attorney deserves yet another four years? When it was rumored that Scott Baugh would be running against you, you were literally trembling with fear, but speaking with bravado how you had no fear and would beat him in an election. You asked if I would endorse you and I said I would not because I do not believe in the position being elected so I believe it would be hypocritical to then endorse a candidate. Last Friday at an event we were both at, you displayed a very similar physical nervousness as you verbalized you were not concerned about having an election opponent, but then proceeded to take shots at his qualifications. I have since then heard you were “pissed” that the City Clerk did not bail you out and reject Mr. Houston’s candidate filing. I have also heard you quoted as saying you were not worried you would “kick his ass!” in an election.
Fine, so campaign, make your case that you have been the best city attorney the City of Huntington Beach could have elected or appointed please! I would have preferred to not have had to air this publicly, but since you chose to do so I have “replied to all.” and then some. You will be very hard to beat in an election no doubt, one of the many other reasons the “elected” city attorney is a bad idea is that the race is very much stacked in the incumbent’s favor in that very few people want to publicly donate money to a challenger, even if they are not happy with the incumbent, in fear that they will fall in to disfavor with the incumbent who likely will win.
From reading your rationale in your email below, it seems you are saying that Mr. Houston may very well have practiced law as a law student for a year or so, but he may not have obtained a new certification each time he had a new employer. Technically true or not, I do not know, but I hope Mr. Houston chooses to stay in the race and you choose to run a campaign against him rather than try to litigate this issue of “technicality.” If Mr. Houston does proceed to run and he publicly affirms that he also agrees that the City Attorney position should be appointed rather than elected, I will gladly publicly endorse and financially support him.
I also heard you were planning to sue the City Clerk of the City of Huntington Beach, please say it is not true Madam City Attorney!?!
If you choose to litigate rather than campaign it will confirm that you are fearful to campaign based on your track record, because contrary to what your campaign website states, this elected official believes your performance has been below acceptable standards. More specifically your campaign website (www.jennifermcgrath.com) makes the following assertions that I in my experience as one of your clients have found to be untrue. “Jennifer McGrath is a leader with integrity”, “Her team-oriented approach towards litigation has led to success in the courtroom and cost savings for Huntington Beach.” Jennifer McGrath is a proven choice.” Strike one, two and three!
Please bring on the campaign rather than the lawsuits Madam City Attorney!
City Attorney Jennifer McGrath Responds
1. I do not agree with Mr. Houston’s interpretation of the City Charter that clerking as a law student under the supervision of a licensed attorney is “engaging in the practice of law.” In addition, whether or not he obtained the appropriate certifications as a law student is not a mere technicality. Quite simply, a law student is not a lawyer nor is a law
student “engaged in the practice of law.” An internship or clerkship is akin to an apprenticeship.
2. Councilmember Bohr’s vitriolic response to my inquiry of Mr. Houston’s qualifications is indicative of his personal agenda. Councilmember Bohr has been consistent in his position that the City Attorney of Huntington Beach should be an appointed position. He fails to acknowledge that the citizens of Huntington Beach created an elected City Attorney decades ago to be a watch-dog of the City Council. They did not want an appointed City Attorney beholden to the City Council subject to the potential influence and/or pressure of a City Council to present the opinion City Council wanted to hear. And each time the citizens of Huntington Beach have been given an opportunity to establish an appointed City Attorney, the ballot measure has been overwhelmingly defeated. I will admit that before I took office, I myself was questioning whether or not it should be an elected office; however, since I took office, multiple experiences have demonstrated that the City needs a watch-dog.
3. I take exception to Councilmember Bohr’s statements regarding my role at the Charter Review Commission. I attended the Commission personally as I appreciated the importance of the Charter and I have the responsibility of interpreting and enforcing the Charter. I did not aggressively campaign/lobby the Charter Review Commission for an elected City Attorney. As evidenced by the public record, I recused myself and ensured that an Assistant City Attorney advised the Charter Review Commission during the deliberation of Charter Section 309, “City Attorney”, for this reason specifically. I think my decision to recuse myself was an example of integrity.
4. Regardless of Councilmember Bohr’s analysis of my job, qualifications thereof, or motivations, my record speaks for itself. I am not the elected City Attorney to tell him, or any other individual councilmember or staff member, what they want to hear. The personal agendas of individual councilmembers should not sway the legal advice of the City Attorney. Too often, councilmember decisions driven by their own personal agenda or partisanship simply result in lawsuits against the City that require the expenditure of taxpayer dollars to defend.
5. I am not “afraid” to run for re-election. I am concerned that an inexperienced, rookie attorney could potentially take office. It is not what the citizens of Huntington Beach expect or deserve. As any Human Relations professional would say, if he has no experience, then he can’t do the job.
Thank you for the opportunity to respond.