The ongoing civil matter between plaintiff Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) and Mammoth Community Water District (MCWD) could be headed for a resolution, averting a trial, based on a status conference in Mono County Superior Court this past Tuesday.
Judge Joseph Garbolino, who was appointed to oversee the case, heard from both sides, who echoed statements of what was deemed positive progress in resolving a pair of lawsuits LADWP filed against MCWD last year.
The first is to determine the adequacy of an MCWD Environmental Impact Report. The second seeks to invalidate the District’s 2010 Urban Water Management Plan, a standard planning document required by the state. Both lawsuits were based upon the underlying issue that LADWP does not believe MCWD has legal rights to surface water for Mammoth Creek.
Attorney for the LADWP, Stuart Somach of Somach Simmons & Dunn, said he and MCWD counsel Alan Lilly have held extensive talks as to the state of the litigation. “We’ve had three full negotiating sessions with board members and [MCWD] General Manager Greg Norby, as well as the LADWP Aqueduct Manager [Jim Yannotta] and the LADWP Manager [Ron Nichols],” he informed the Judge. “We believe we’ve been able to iron or work out a settlement.”
Somach added the settlement still needs some work, but LADWP was able to provide MCWD with draft terms of a settlement. The Water District and counsel have since sent back a red-lined revision, and Somach and LADWP are currently reviewing those changes. “We’re hoping for a bit more time to work out details,” Somach told Garbolino. No details from the proposed settlement have been released and were not discussed during the conference.
“A Feb. 12 meeting with LA commissioners should provide more direction,” Somach said. “By that time we should know if we have a settlement approved by both boards or need to proceed to trial briefs.” Somach suggested a settlement is “90% there.”
Lilly and Somach agreed that the meetings have been “good, productive,” and acknowledged to Judge Garbolino that no settlement arbiter has involved thus far. “It hasn’t been necessary,” Somach noted, though both counsel agreed that if an impasse is reached, they would certainly consider bringing one in.
Judge Garbolino stopped short of setting a date for pre-trial briefings, and both parties indicated their hopes for reaching a settlement. “Nothing like setting a briefing date to get a settlement agreement to go further,” Garbolino quipped. A further status conference between Judge Garbolino and the attorneys is set for Feb. 14.
Hugelman v. Mammoth
In other court activity, Judge Garbolino also presided over a conference in a civil matter between plaintiff MLPD Sergeant Eric Hugelman and defendant the Town of Mammoth Lakes. Hugelman is suing the Town for more back pay and additional benefits stemming from a termination over reported behavioral issues.
Previously, Mammoth Lakes Police Chief Dan Watson said the question is what amount is Hugelman entitled to in terms of back pay. According to Watson, Hugelman was already paid for the time he was off the job with an appeal pending on his termination, but wasn’t convinced it was the correct amount.
Former Chief Randy Schienle had fired Hugelman following an internal affairs investigation into the bar fight at Rusty’s Saloon in Bishop in 2009. Hugelman was initially charged, but later counts were dismissed. An administrative hearing officer found that Hugelman should be reinstated at the MLPD.
Since then, Hugelman filed for Chapter 13 Bankruptcy protection, and pre-trial proceedings were postponed temporarily. A stay due to the bankruptcy action was lifted in November 2012, and proceedings have since resumed, though Hugelman’s attorney, Rob Sergi, indicated the stay was lifted without much notice and caught him off guard. “We haven’t sent out any discovery yet,” Sergi told Judge Garbolino, though he did expect some of the first items to be sent out this week. “Right now, it’s hard to assess any mediation or settlement.”
The Town, represented by attorney Laurel Hoehn, had hoped to have discovery by October 2013, and Judge Garbolino originally suggested a Nov. 4 trial date. Sergi, however, said he doesn’t expect to have discovery completed until November, though he added that based on that timeline, he hopes there might be room at the time for mediation or a settlement.
If a mediator is necessary, both Sergi and Hoehn agreed to consider a private mediator, and split the costs.
With discovery not complete until November, Sergi suggested starting any trial proceedings in January 2014. “The trial date operates as a discovery cutoff,” Garbolino told both counsel. “April 2014 seems like an awful long time to put this out, though I am willing to consider that.”