The judge hearing the civil suit filed against four Dunsmuir City Council members concluded that all relief and remedies requested be denied. He also ordered each party to bear their own attorney costs and fees.

The judge hearing the civil suit filed against four Dunsmuir City Council members concluded that all relief and remedies requested be denied. He also ordered each party to bear their own attorney costs and fees.

The judge's Statement of Decision in the suit by former council member Peter Arth against councilors Chris Raine, Nick Mitchell, Diane Dolf, and Arlis Steele was filed with the court Jan. 15 after five days of testimony in a Siskiyou County courtroom.

Raine, Mitchell, and Dolf are current Dunsmuir councilors. Arlis Steele was a council member when the suit was filed but did not win reelection in November, 2012.

Representing Arth is Dunsmuir attorney David Hicks. The four respondents were represented in court by Redding attorney James Wyatt.

The nine-page Statement of Decision by retired Judge Arjuna Saraydarian from Riverside County ordered that "Judgment be entered in favor of Respondents and against Petitioners on all causes of Action."

Raine, who also received a letter Jan. 15 that closed an investigation by the Fair Political Practices Commission without finding a violation, said he's happy with "two victories, two vindications in one week."

Raine said now that the civil suit has been decided, he looks forward to focusing on pursuing the Mossbrae Trail project and the implementation of fair and equitable sewer and water rates.

Mitchell said he feels vindicated by Saraydarian's decision and is looking forward to getting work done on water rates.

"I'm upset we had to go through this process because it's going to cost the Dunsmuir citizens money in the future," said Mitchell, referring to the court costs incurred in the suit.

Arlis Steele said he's happy that after two years he's been exonerated of wrongdoing.

"All of the accusations against us were not true," Steele said. "I'm relieved and now maybe the city can move forward."

Hicks said the judge's Statement of Decision is "a tentative indication" of how the court will rule. He said both sides may now provide input to the court and the finalized judgement is expected in early February.

Hicks said much of their case was going to be about what happened in the last 18 months, but Saraydarian limited all evidence to what happened between January and July of 2011. Because Arth believes the four respondents committed several "clear violations of law" after that date, they are "considering what we want to do about that, and the actions of the council at the next meeting will determine our course."

FPPC ruling

Hicks also pointed to a letter from the FPPC, dated Jan. 15, that issued a warning to Mitchell for violating one provision of the government code when he did not identify the financial interest that was the basis for his recusal during a Jan. 18, 2011 city council meeting.

The letter further specifies there was "no evidence to indicate a conflict of interest violation" in Mitchell's case, and "due to the specific circumstances of this case... we determined that further enforcement action was not warranted since there was little public harm."

Regarding Raine's investigation, the FPPC said, "The commission has completed a review... and closed this case without finding a violation, because decisions made by (Raine) 'affected the public generally.'"

The court process

In the nine page Statement of Decision, Saraydarian outlined the process by which he came to his conclusions.

Though Hicks brought forward many issues, concerns and sets of actions, he identified four "causes of action" for Saraydarian to consider in the civil complaint, including violations of the Brown Act, violations of the Political Reform Act, violation of Common Law Conflict of Interest and waste on the part of all four respondents.

In order to narrow the issues down before possibly calling a jury, as requested by the respondents, Saraydarian held a hearing during which Hicks and Wyatt presented the facts of their case.

For five days, Hicks called current and past members of the Dunsmuir City Council, current and past city staff, and others to the stand.

After the hearing, Saraydarian ruled the trial move forward on two issues: whether the four respondents violated the Brown Act by attending a meeting of Citizens for a Better Dunsmuir on Jan. 4, 2011, and whether Mitchell and Raine violated the law when they voted to stop previously enacted increases in water rates on July 21, 2011.

According to Saraydarian's judgement, "the remaining issues having been found as unsupported by law or fact, the matter proceeded to trial and the parties stipulated that all the testimony and other evidence previously heard by the court would be admitted and considered for purpose of the trial."

After both parties offered additional evidence and argument, the matter was submitted to Saraydarian for judgement instead of calling a jury.

Saraydarian summarizes the five days of testimony in his nine page Statement of Decision. He also outlines the four causes of action and cites court cases that helped him come to his conclusions on each topic, which are as follows:

Brown Act

"There is no evidence that indicates or suggests that any three of the respondents, at any time, met together directly or indirectly to consider or deliberate about city business," writes Saraydarian. During a gathering of the CFBD to discuss ways to raise funds to pay for their lawsuit, Saraydarian said there was no discussion of any city business despite the fact that three respondents did attend at one time.

Political Reform Act

"At the meetings of the city council when the waiver of the city's attorney fees in exchange for the dismissal of the lawsuit against the city was considered, Mitchell disqualified himself from the voting as he was a named petitioner in that lawsuit," Saraydarian writes. "Raine initially recused himself and later decided to participate in the vote that resulted in the approval of the fee waiver. There is no evidence that Raine is a member or officer or in any manner involved in the CFBD group and therefore no reason to believe that he had a conflict of interest."

Saraydarian added that the vote to approve the waiver was later unanimously rescinded and therefore, "any earlier voting irregularities as to this matter is moot."

As to Raine and Mitchell's action to stop the second and third year water rate increases, Saraydarian said the two men are subject to an exception that says officials who are "consumers of utilities available to everyone generally would be able to participate in the decision making process."

"It is clear that the action taken by all respondents, especially those of Mitchell and Raine, affected the entire approximately 1,300 water using customers, including all of the 82 commercial water users," Saraydarian writes. "Moreover, there is no indication that that decision will have a 'reasonably foreseeable material financial effect on one or more' of the respondents' economic interests. Therefore, they did not have a conflict of interest that precluded them in voting at the July 21, 2011 meeting of the city council. That decision by the city council is not void."

Common law and waste

On the issue of common law conflict of interest accusations, Saraydarian ruled, "Petitioners have not presented credible evidence to indicate that respondents have engaged in any common law conflict of interest."

As to the waste issue, Saraydarian said, "There is no evidence that the respondents or the city are guilty of illegally spending public funds."

In addition, Saraydarian said the CFBD lawsuit was not frivolous because it "raises significant issues" related to the enactment or Ordinance 531 (which raised Dunsmuir's water rates) and the alleged irregularities in the implementation of the Proposition 218 vote.