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Law firm gets caught between agencies
Otay water district’s attorney steps aside, stays on with Sweetwater schools
By Tanya Sierra
January 5, 2011
A law firm that represents two South Bay governments, a school board and a water district, has had to drop one because of an apparent dispute between the agencies.
Garcia Calderon Ruiz, LLP, has tendered its resignation to the Otay Water District board after 10 years, in a letter saying partners had “been placed in the middle of adversarial relationships that have developed between members of the Otay board of directors and the board of trustees of the Sweetwater Union High School District.”
The firm would not elaborate.
The president of the Otay water board, Jaime Bonilla, said he may have caused the rift by making an offhand comment to one of the attorneys at the firm.
Bonilla is friends with Bertha Lopez, a board member of the Sweetwater Union High School District who is being sued by a district admistrator who accuses her of meddling in the alternative education department. Lopez says she was just doing her due diligence as a board member.
Bonilla commented to a Garcia Calderon Ruiz attorney that he thought Lopez was being treated unfairly.
Bonilla said he was later informed by the law firm that Sweetwater officials issued an ultimatum — either Otay went away as a client, or Sweetwater would.
The firm chose to drop Otay, which also has Bertha's husband Jose Lopez on its board.
The decision will cost the firm about $500,000 a year from Otay, but will allow it to keep making about $1 million a year representing the Sweetwater schools.
Sweetwater’s legal budget is $750,000, but it paid the law firm $1.2 million two years ago and at least $904,000 last year.
Calls to Sweetwater Superintendent Jesus Gandara were not returned Wednesday. A district spokeswoman said he would be unavailable, as he and other administrators were on unpaid furlough due to budget problems.