Secret E-mail Revealed: Keith Bohr bashes the City Attorney, she responds

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.

Also read Part I and Part II.

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.

Keith Bohr
Councilmember Keith Bohr says the City Attorney broke her promise and lacks integrity. Photo: SCV

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

Jennifer McGrath
City Attorney Jennifer McGrath says she has a proven record of integrity and helps to provide the checks and balances that city government needs. Photo: SCV

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.

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7 thoughts on “Secret E-mail Revealed: Keith Bohr bashes the City Attorney, she responds”

  1. John Earl,’
    Shame on you for acting like you scooped this story. “Secret Email Revealed” “The e-mail has not been revealed to the general public but was obtained from a source by the Surf City Voice.”

    I sent you a copy of Jennifer’s email to Mr. Houston and copied to me and others and my response. So much for it being Secret! Lighten up on the trumped up “drama.”

    Yes I do think HB would be better served by being able to pick from a large qualified pool of attorneys throughout Orange County, rather than the relatively few that are qualified that must live in HB to be eligible to run. Other than that my challenges with Jennifer McGrath’s C- performance as our Elected City Attorney has nothing to do with any personal agenda of my own, I think HB residents and its city council and staff deserve much better.

  2. Dear Councilmember Keith Bohr:

    Thank you for your response, finally, but don’t make me laugh so hard. YOU are accusing me of “trumped up drama?” Maybe you should read your e-mail again.

    No, absolutely you did NOT cc me with that e-mail. In fact, you did not even respond when I asked you about your statement within that e-mail–that Mr. Houston’s resume history is a mere “technicality.”

    Respectfully, I ask if you can please answer that question now? How is it a mere technicality if someone is ineligible to run for office as Ms. McGrath alleges?

    You say you want to increase the pool of available attorneys–ok, then what standards of experience would you require as the city councilmember who might be hiring one of those lawyers?

    Don’t you at least think that the City Charter language in Section 309 needs to be cleaned up. For example, how about defining “engaged in the practice of law” as “consistent with California State law”?

    Again, as to your e-mail:

    You sent it to a small circle of people, and I was NOT one of them. Here is the exact list copied directly from the e-mail which I got by asking another source, who shall remain unnamed:

    From: Keith Bohr [mailto:keith.bohr@gmail.com]
    Sent: Thursday, August 12, 2010 2:17 PM
    To: Jennifer McGrath
    Cc: gabe@hblawyers.net; j.devindwyer@verizon.net; ddwyer@surfcity-hb.org; Bohr, Keith; Hansen, Don; donfh@balboacapital.com; Carchio, Joe; Coerper, Gil; Coerper, Gil; jill@jillhardy.com; Hardy, Jill; Green, Cathy; PPcgreen@verizon.net; Flynn, Joan; Wilson, Fred; D’Alessandro, Paul
    Subject: Re: Verification of Certified Law Student Status

    The readers can see that, in fact, you sent this e-mail to a small circle of government officials, yourself and Mr. Houston (who was also cagey about the e-mail on the phone with me) and this is not a group of people who like to air their dirty laundry in public. You know that as well as anybody. The e-mail obviously wasn’t meant for the general public, so it’s entirely correct to call it a secret e-mail.

    If you meant for this e-mail to be public, why didn’t you just call a press conference or cc it to all the news media? If you had, it would have been all over the Register and Independent by now.

  3. What many of us have been waiting for!! Thank you. A very worthy topic of public dialogue and debate. Please continue!

    A long time resident, long disgusted with the stagnancy of “government” of the City of Huntington Beach, it has not been my impression that the City Attorney regularly represents the concerns of the residents of this city; her DUI incident where she was arrested by the HBPD caused a concern for “independence;” given the reputation of harassment by that department “of the city.”

    One conspicuous exception was the issue of “The Senior Citizen Center,” which was approved by a sham disclosure to voters, and has assertive support of those former members of The City Council who might better adjourn to the backrooms where their “deals” were brokered? Their attack upon McGrath was her vindication. As to Keith Bohr; what else is new?

    Please keep us all “tuned in.”

  4. John, John, John,

    No I didn’t copy you or any other press when I originally sent the email. But I did send it to you in response to your email on Feb. 17th at 10:54 am, I responded to that email with Jennifer’s email and my response email at 1:46pm on the 17th and then you replied at 2:17pm asking me your question in response to my email?Ringing any bells John?

    see the delivery info below:
    John,
    Here is what and when I forwarded you the so called “secret email” so please correct your post that I did not send it to you.

    ———- Forwarded message ———-
    From: Keith.Bohr
    Date: Tue, Aug 17, 2010 at 1:46 PM
    Subject: City Attorney Campaign
    To: JE
    Cc: Bohr Keith

    Here you go John,
    Need to read from middle down and then my response…

    Dear Madam Elected City Attorney,

    Once again I find your actions to be quite contrary to what you have said in the past….(I did not for this post include the whole email again)

    Now look at what time (a half hour after I sent my email to you) you sent your email to me asking the question about my email.

    JE
    to Keith Bohr
    date Tue, Aug 17, 2010 at 2:17 PM
    subject Surf City Voice question
    hide details Aug 17 (6 days ago)
    Keith:

    Please read the question carefully and give me your response for the record.

    “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.”

    Those were your exact words, among many others, in an email to Ms. McGrath that I have obtained a copy of.

    Now John you may have also received a copy from somebody else, but my point is I voluntarily offered it up before you ever asked me about it, so that is why I say you over “dramatized” with the caption “Secret E-mail”

  5. Keith, Keith Keith:

    Come on man, give it up! LOL LOL!!!

    No, no, no. I do not have nor did I receive ANY email from you with ANY content of your email to the City Attorney.

    It is certainly theoretically possible that you sent said supposed (2) emails and 2 in a row didn’t get to me. However, I have never had that happen before with an email from you to my knowledge.

    In any case, let’s just say for the sake of argument that you did send the emails and they BOTH went into some cyberspace black hole.

    It’s still ridiculous for you to say that you meant your McGrath bashing email to be for the general public, since even IF you did send it to me, you only did so after you knew a reporter was probably on to the story and it would have been quite logical for you to assume that I might have seen the email you sent FIVE DAYS EARLIER on Aug 12 to McGrath, in which case you waited to McGrath actually FIVE days (kept it a SECRET for 5 days, that is) to disclose it and ONLY after a reporter was already on to the story–something that your comment above indicates.

    Either way, it was clearly a secret email.

    Are you trying to flush out the REAL source of the email copy sent to me?

    I find it curious for you to imply that you didn’t try to keep this matter behind the scenes, just between you and a select group of city officials and the opposing candidate, whom you have promised to endorse.

    If you were so willing to have your true feelings for McGratg out in the public, why didn’t you bash her during the councilmember comment period at the city council meeting on Aug. 16 and give the press a copy of your email then or go truly public anytime between Aug 12 and Aug. 17?

    One reasonable assumption is that you didn’t want the public to know about an email that, let’s face it, is pretty hyperbolic and maybe just a bit embarrassing–not because you want the City Attorney to be appointed, but because you ravaged her reputation in a rather childish and irrational fashion, even worse than the bitter bantering that many HB residents are already tired of hearing after several recent city council meetings.

    Since you have the time to try to dispute the headline of the article, why don’t you also answer the question that I have asked you THREE (3) times now? I think it is the most important question of this whole controversy, because it speaks to whether you take the city’s laws seriously or not.

    Mr. Houston has openly answered the question, and I printed it amply in Part II.

    City Attorney McGrath has answered the questions too.

    Only you have refused to do so.

    Why? Why can’t you answer this very simple and very important question? I ask you again, as an elected official responsible for upholding the laws of the city to answer this question so the people know where you stand and can decide for themselves.

    Here it is again, in full (also, note that below I say “that I have obtained a copy of”. I don’t say that I obtained a copy from you!):

    “Keith:

    “Please read the question carefully and give me your response for the record.

    “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.”

    Those were your exact words, among many others, in an email to Ms. McGrath that I have obtained a copy of.
    Then, for the record:

    Are election law, i.e. the city charter, and state law, i.e. state bar requirements, a mere “technicality”? Are you saying, then, that, as an elected official, it does not matter to you if Mr. Houston is an ineligible candidate under the law, and that you endorse him and will financially support him regardless?”

    I think an inquiring public would like to know.

    Respectfully,

    John Earl
    Editor
    Surf City Voice
    http://www.surfcityvoice.com

  6. well, you know, the Council only really takes to task hapless members of the public who dare take a place at the podium, and then have the timerity to question decisions made “on High”. Like the city traffic engineer for instance. Woe be unto us. And all done in public, on television. Their partisan nit picking at each other is just a sign of election time jostling for position. I think all of this is absolutely tooooooo sweeeeeeeeeet. Sit back and watch.

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