A California appeals court has upheld a $900,000 ruling against two Redondo Beach residents who sued the mayor and a city councilmember, among others, involved in a successful 2017 ballot measure campaign to limit waterfront development.
The defendants cheered the decision while the plaintiffs in earlier proceedings vowed to appeal the ruling further if it did not favor them.
Redondo Beach residents Chris Voisey and Arnette Travis filed a lawsuit in 2017 that argued Redondo Beach Mayor Bill Brand and Councilman Nils Nehrenheim coordinated with the political action committee Rescue Our Waterfront, led by Wayne Craig, to campaign for Measure C, even as developer CenterCal Properties worked on a $400 million waterfront project; that redevelopment project fell apart after Measure C passed and the California Coastal Commission rejected the proposal. The lawsuit also argued that the PAC misclassified itself in campaign finance documents.
Both arguments, however, failed to convince Superior Court Judge Malcolm Mackey in 2019, who ruled in favor of Brand and Nehrenheim and ordered the plaintiffs to pay their opponent’s $896,000 in attorney fees.
The California 2nd District Court of Appeal opinion, published late last week, upheld Mackey’s ruling against Voisey and Travis, but voided the responsibility of Bruning and Wardy, who could not be reached for comment.
“Once again, truth prevails as artfully defended by our legal team,” Nehrenheim said in a statement. “It is time to start building bridges and rebuilding the community from the pain (CenterCal) has inflicted.”
It wasn’t immediately clear whether Voisey and Travis would appeal to the California Supreme Court. Voisey, who unsuccessfully ran for mayor against Brand in recent elections, said Monday, March 22, that it was too early to comment, but that he did plan on pursuing several legal avenues.
“We were disappointed in some of the Court of Appeals analysis, as there appear to be a few potential flaws,” Voisey said in a statement. “That said, again, we need time to digest and review the relevant case laws. It would be premature to state our planned path regarding that.”
Voisey said his motivations were pure.
“I have always had one goal, and one purpose only,” he wrote, “to expose the collusion of people working together that have been in secret and let the Redondo public and voters know.”
In his 2019 ruling, Mackey wrote that Voisey and Travis were “shills” for Bruning and Wardy, saying the CenterCal officials spurred the lawsuit — which is why the judge added them to the judgment.
But the appeals court panel ruled Mackey, in doing so, had acted beyond his authority.
“The nonparties (Bruning and Wardy) funded the suit, but people funding lawsuits enjoy due process rights,” the appeals court ruling said. “California has no public policy against funding of litigation by outsiders.”
For Brand, though, this particular victory was one more hurdle in the ongoing efforts to move beyond CenterCal and the people who supported the project.
“I’m sure they did not expect to lose, and certainly not be held responsible for the legal fees of the other side,” he said in a written statement. “But now four judges, not just one, have delivered the karma they deserve.”