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  Can't Keep Mouth Shut
March 1, 2006

I donít know what it is about lawyers. My father and grandfather were lawyers (as well as judges). My brother is a lawyer. I have some fantastic lawyer clients. I even have friends that are lawyers. I just seem to be continually in conflict with the ones that work for the City of Richmond, and Iím usually out there by myself.


I think maybe the problem is that my colleagues and City staff are intimidated by lawyers. They assign to them almost infallibility, as if they had brought down their opinions and their recommendations from the mountain on stone tablets. Well, guess what; lawyers are just like the rest of us. They range from really smart to really dumb. They even make mistakes, sometimes really big ones. For every legal battle, 50% of the lawyers are wrong -- probably a little more for the ones who work for the City of Richmond in one capacity or another. Ours also tend to arrogance. What I really like are helpful lawyers. We need more of them and less of the other kind.


There are, however, a few I like, and I hope they know who they are.


From todayís East Bay Express:

Sewage Leaks

Richmond Councilman Tom Butt can't keep his mouth shut, bless him.

By Will Harper

Article Published Mar 1, 2006

When government agencies get sued, everyone goes into no-comment mode, citing "pending litigation." All too often, lawsuits serve as a great excuse for politicians to remain silent on a touchy subject. Not Richmond City Councilman Tom Butt.

Last month Baykeeper, an environmental group, filed a lawsuit against the city for violating the Clean Water Act by spilling thousands of gallons of raw sewage into the bay. Baykeeper contends that Richmond hasn't done enough to fix its crumbling waste-treatment system. One week after the suit was filed, Butt wrote about the legal action on his e-mail forum: "Unfortunately, Baykeeper is mostly right, and despite significant surges of progress, the city has more typically followed 'The Richmond Way,' consisting of foot-dragging delays, excuses, and failure to keep the city council informed."

This sparked a strong reaction from the city's outside counsel, Melissa Thorme, of the Downey Brand law firm. Thorme apparently wrote a memo warning the city council about the dangers of making admissions that could be used against not only the city, but individual councilmembers. Butt fired off a response to his colleagues, which Feeder obtained, ranting about lawyer Thorme: "Ms. Thorne [sic] works for the rest of you (I'd fire her in a heartbeat), and if you like to be scared out of your pants by her intimidating counsel about imprisonment, fines, jail terms ... and criminal prosecution, then so be it. ... I just can't believe you all put up with this stuff."

Reached at his office, Butt said he doesn't want to stay silent on the sewage issue "because this whole thing pisses me off. ... They use this litigation as an excuse for not doing anything." Asked why he wanted to fire Thorme, he said, well, because she pisses him off. The lawyer counters that Butt shouldn't be discussing a confidential attorney-client communication.

Nope, he probably shouldn't, but bless him for doing it anyway.