Irvine government officials hoped they could derail a lawsuit filed by a political ally to Larry Agran—the disgraced ex-mayor who sabotaged construction of the Orange County Great Park, but a federal judge has rejected their request for pretrial dismissal.
In February, Frank J. Lunding, a northern California lawyer and longtime Agran operative, sued Irvine after claiming the city violated the U.S. Constitution by refusing to distribute his “newspaper” at city hall along with OC Weekly and Irvine World News (IWN), an Orange County Register publication.
Lunding's Irvine Community News & Views served as a campaign contributor-funded slate mailer posing as a newspaper for several election cycles while Agran tried to keep a 3-2 majority over the city and its funds, but claimed it transformed into a real news outlet promoting the politician's agenda after citizen's booted him out of office in 2014.
A private attorney retained by Irvine told U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Guilford that the lawsuit became moot on Feb. 9, when Craig Reem, a city public information officer, adopted a written policy that banned city hall distribution of all publications unless they are funded by the city.
That move, taken shortly after Reem learned of Lunding's lawsuit, can be viewed as a partial Agran victory because he desperately wanted to curtail distribution of the Weekly as retaliation against our coverage of his numerous ethical lapses, including the diversion of tens of millions of dollars in Great Park construction funds to his political operatives.
But the city's stance didn't impress Guilford.
In a mid-June ruling inside Orange County's Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse, Guilford worried Irvine had taken steps merely to frustrate Lunding's lawsuit, refused to drop the case and kept the scheduled June 2017 trial on his calendar.
“In short, it is not 'absolutely clear' that the allegedly wrongful behavior described in the complaint could not 'reasonably be expected to recur,'” he wrote in his June 15 ruling. “Accordingly, the city has not met its 'heavy burden' of showing that the claims declaratory and injunctive relief are moot.”
The judge also noted that the city seemingly had violated its own policy after the filing of the lawsuit by allowing distribution of an Irvine Chamber of Commerce publication that isn't funded by the government.
But Guilford, who is featured in the current Weekly cover story as an assassination target, cautioned both sides that his refusal to dismiss the case does not necessarily mean he agrees Lunding's lawsuit has winning merit.
“The core questions of whether the city's previous customs and practices or its new policy violate the United States of California Constitutions are questions for another day,” he stated.
Meanwhile, Agran—a failed 1992 Democratic Party presidential primary candidate—and his allies have been trying to win back control over Irvine, which now has a 4-1 majority with Republicans Steven Choi, Christina Shea, Jeff Lalloway and Lynn Schott, and, in opposition, Democrat Beth Krom, who shamelessly supported the diversion of Great Park funds to operatives when her party controlled Irvine.