Is RLECWD attorney Ravi Mehta working both sides of the fence?
I am requesting that ALL voters, ratepayers, and those who rely on the RLECWD for services please read the following. I apologize for its length, it’s a complex issue.
Former General Manager Joseph Sherrill has filed four lawsuits against the district. The breach of contract suit dealing with his termination is being handled by ACWA/JPIA, the district’s insurer. The remaining three suits are writs of mandate, in which Mr. Sherrill alleges that the district violated the Brown Act, among other allegations. In these suits, the district is being defended by district legal counsel Ravi Mehta.
On 30 October 2012 Sherrill filed a motion with the court requesting that Mehta be disqualified from acting as district’s legal counsel in these cases.
Sherrill cites conflict of interests, alleging that he received “personal” legal advice from Mehta, that their relationship “went beyond the normal employment capacity,” and continued after Sherrill was terminated. Sherrill implies that Mehta assisted him on a personal basis while Sherrill was employed at the district.
Among Sherrill’s allegations are that Mehta “devised a personal defensive strategy” for Sherrill once Mehta learned that three board members planned to terminate Sherrill. Sherrill and Mehta continued their communications after Sherrill’s termination. Sherrill details some of their conversations, and included the disclosure of “legal strategy on both sides of the litigation.”
Some of the highlights from Sherrill’s 18 page “Motion for disqualification of opposing counsel Ravi Mehta” filing are excerpted below.
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“Mr. Mehta has failed to recuse himself from this litigation whereas petitioner believes counsel has attempted to “Stack the Deck” in his favor by failing to disclose his past and current conflicts of interest of which shall not afford the Petitioner a fair hearing by adversely affecting the balance and outcome of this case. Mr. Mehta is certainly aware that his defensive litigation position represents a significant materially adverse situation for his former client, Mr. Sherrill.”
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“During Petitioner’s employment as General Manager (GM) at the Rio Linda Elverta Community Water District (District) many occasions and hours had been spent conferring with legal counsel Ravi Mehta whereas his legal advice was prescribed to petitioner in various matters regarding both “District” and “Personal” capacities. Petitioner and Mr. Mehta had daily contact and developed a personal and substantial relationship. Petitioner believes and is confident that his attorney-client relationship went beyond the normal employment capacity whereas he had clearly consulted Mr. Mehta in an individual capacity on multiple occasions. Petitioner had divulged confidential personal information including personal and financial status to counsel Mehta for which at no time had Mr. Mehta disclosed to petitioner a separation between the business and personal relationship capacities.”
“Petitioner began work on November 7, 2010. Upon signing his “Public Employee Agreement” that day, petitioner was advised by board members President “Cathy Hood”, Vice-President “Vivien Johnson” and legal counsel “Ravi Mehta” that in the event petitioner believed a situation arose indicating “Potential Litigation” or required a legal
opinion or advice, petitioner was to immediately contact and consult Mr. Mehta regarding such issues. Petitioner was advised on more than one occasion by Mr. Mehta that if petitioner failed to accept the advice of legal counsel, he could personally be liable for the consequences.”
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“Many phone conversations between Petitioner and legal counsel Ravi Mehta took place after petitioner’s termination by the board of directors; issues including conversations of the terminating board members and legal strategy on both sides of litigation were discussed whereas in one such conversation, Mr. Mehta detailed representation of the majority board directors and their strategy to financially devastate the petitioner. Mr. Mehta disclosed that director Francis Caron and his daughter director Courtney Caron’s personal vendetta against petitioner whereas they indicated to him that they will approve any amount of money as long as Mr. Mehta makes sure petitioner is bankrupt and penniless when his case is over. Such comments have doubled and tripled the district’s monthly legal costs whereas only Mr. Mehta has benefited.
The merits of the “above” conversation alone are grounds to disqualify’ Mr. Mehta as the Districts legal counsel and warrant a disciplinary consideration by the State Bar. Petitioner had many similar conversations with Mr. Mehta which violated the Rules of Professional Conduct, specifically (RULE 2-100) as in these instances. Petitioner asserts that he was prejudiced by his disclosure of personal privileged information to Mr. Mehta of which he had disclosed the respondent board’s strategy, statements, settlement choices and conversations to petitioner, while likewise using this information adversely against petitioner.”At the conclusion of this particular conversation, Mehta informed petitioner that his conversation was to be kept between the two of us.”
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“Mr. Mehta had also advised petitioner in a personal capacity regarding his probable termination by directors (Frank Caron, Courtney Caron and Martin Smith) two of which Mr. Mehta had counseled petitioner regarding the November 22, 2010 matter. Mr. Mehta had devised a personal defensive strategy for petitioner prior to the December 6, 2010 and December 11, 2010 special meetings whereas the aforementioned board members were attempting to terminate petitioner’s employment.”
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After reading this document, here are my questions:
- Joe Sherrill admits that he received “personal” legal advice that “went beyond the normal employment capacity” from Ravi Mehta, and that this communication continued even after his termination. Who authorized this? Who paid for it?
- Sherrill claims that Mehta “devised a personal defense strategy” for Sherrill regarding Sherrill’s impending termination. Did Mehta later specifically advise Sherrill to sue the district?
- Sherrill claims that Mehta disclosed “legal strategy on both sides” to Sherrill after his termination. Who paid Mehta’s hourly rate for those conversations? How has it affected ongoing litigation or stretched it out?
- At one point, Sherrill and ACWA/JPIA attorneys appeared to reach an agreement with ACWA/JPIA offering Sherrill $150,000 to settle the breach of contract suit. From court filings, it appears Sherrill accepted, then rejected the offer (asking for an additional $15,000 and certain settlement terms). Was Sherrill still conversing with Mehta at this time? If so, did Mehta’s input cause Sherrill to change his mind about the settlement?
- The first of Sherrill’s suits in which Mehta is opposing counsel was filed in March 2012. Why did it take Sherrill so long to request that Mehta be disqualified? How long was Sherrill in constant communication with Mehta?
- Sherrill admits that Cathy Nelson Hood and Vivien Johnson encouraged him, from his very first day, to contact Mehta whenever he needed legal advice or an opinion. Did Johnson and Hood direct Mehta to provide personal legal advise to their associate and Nelson family friend*, Joe Sherrill?
(*In a sworn declaration to the court, Joe Sherrill notes that he learned of the employment opportunity at the district “via a friend named Mr. Nelson.”) Was this Mr. Nelson aka Doug Nelson, Director Cathy Nelson-Hood’s brother.
- If Sherrill’s allegations hold any truth, why would Ravi Mehta do this? To give Sherrill advice that is contrary to the best interests of the district is foolish, risky, and eventually may not prove to be in Mehta’s best interests. Keeping the previous question in mind, was Mehta instructed to assist Sherrill by Johnson and Hood, the directors who awarded Mehta the ridiculously lucrative contract and who openly support Sherrill?
- Is this why Johnson and Hood have met with Sherrill outside of board meetings, even after his termination? To discuss “strategy”?
- Is that “strategy” part of the threats made by Cathy Hood and Vivien Johnson immediately after Sherrill’s termination? That’s when Hood went on record as saying she was going to insure the district filed bankruptcy. Johnson’s threat was much more personal. To the three Directors who voted to fire Sherrill, she said, “I think you three are going to regret this terribly. And I’ll tell you what, I’m going to do everything I can to make sure you do.” Does that include directing Mehta to give Sherrill personal legal advice and share legal strategy regarding Sherrill’s litigation?
- What action will the board take? Will this affect Johnson’s unconditional, unwavering support of Ravi Mehta?
- How much has all of this subterfuge cost us in the form of protracted litigation and unnecessary distractions? How much more will it cost? When will it end?
Thank you for reading this. Please note that I am not accusing Ravi Mehta of anything, just discussing Joe Sherrill’s allegations against Ravi Mehta contained in the motion Sherrill recently filed with the court.
If you wish to read Sherrill’s filing in its entirety, go to: https://services.saccourt.ca.gov/publicdms/Search.aspx
Then enter Case # 34-2012-80001135 and click “SEARCH”. Then click on “VIEW” of Document 10/30/2012 12:59 PM, MOTION-OTHER, “767 KB”