The South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation district enlisted a Santa Barbara law firm to provide temporary legal services after its long-time legal counsel resigned.
The district’s board of directors voted June 3 to appoint Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck law firm as its interim district counsel following the resignation of former legal counsel Michael Seitz. The firm was chosen to fill an “immediate need” for legal counsel in the wake of Seitz’s departure.
Seitz, who served as the district’s legal counsel for 20 years, announced his resignation in a letter dated May 20, shortly after the board voted to hire a former IRS auditor to conduct a thorough review of the district’s finances and operations under its former administrator, John Wallace. Wallace resigned in 2013 after a series of controversies.
“I have found my representation of this district to be a rewarding experience, and I have nothing but the best wishes for the continued progress of this district,” Seitz wrote.
Board Chairman Jim Hill said that Seitz indicated that his departure wasn’t due to the audit, but to a potential conflict of interest over his representation of the district and the Nipomo Community Services District.
“[Seitz’s] stated reason for resignation was that he is also counsel for Nipomo CSD, and due to the fact the [district] is considering recycled water projects and NCSD is a water purveyor, there could be conflicts of interest in the future,” Hill said.
In his resignation letter, Seitz states the Nipomo district is one of several parties in the Nipomo Mesa Management Area, which is involved in litigation over the right to pump water from the Santa Maria Groundwater Basin. Seitz cited tensions between the Nipomo management area and the Northern Cities Management Area as another reason for his departure.
According to information presented to the board, the interim firm’s rates were “significantly higher” that Seitz’s. Information from the district indicates the firm will charge $515 an hour for work done by one of its top-billed attorneys, and between $255 and $285 an hour when the work is done by associate attorneys.
A report to the board indicated that the firm would use those associates to perform the majority of the work to keep costs low. The firm will likely get some work right off the bat, as the district attempts to settle a $1.1-million fine from state water quality officials for negligence stemming from a raw sewage spill at the district’s Oceano treatment plant in 2010.