Tulare Sues Former City Attorney

Tulare is suing former City Attorney Heather Phillips and her law firm, Goyette and Associates.

A complaint filed December 11 in Tulare County Superior Court on the city’s behalf alleges Phillips was negligent in her representation of Tulare’s interests. The filling also alleges Phillips and her firm failed to provide adequate accounting for the $30,000 a month fee they charged, and the group used the payments from the contract to gain “unjust enrichment.”

Representing Tulare is Visalia-based attorney Leonard Herr. Phillips could not be reached for comment.

No Accounting

According to the complaint, during the 13 months Phillips served as Tulare’s city attorney beginning in June of 2017, her firm failed to provide any accounting for the $30,000 monthly retainer it charged.

Terms of the the contract between Goyette and Associates and the city allowed the firm to bill $170 to $190 per hour for attorneys’ time, and $125 an hour for paralegal work and clerking services. Any remaining balance was to be returned to the city. According to the filing, none of the fees paid were ever returned.

The suit also alleges payments of the $30,000 fee were not held in trust for the city, but instead deposited into the law firm’s bank accounts.

“The money collected by G&A was not deposited in a trust account for city or otherwise maintained by G&A for the benefit of clients,” the city’s complain states. “Rather, the entire amount of fees delivered to G&A from city was kept by G&A for its own use.”

Incompetent Service

The suit also claims Phillips “failed to competently provide legal service.”

Specifically, the suit alleges Phillips’ failure to act on a public records request led to the city settling a suit against it at a cost of $32,500. She also failed to file a tax lien against a business that was then sold, causing the city to fail to collect on the unpaid tax bill, according to the filing.

Finally, the suit alleges poor advice given by Phillips led to the six-month suspension and eventual firing of former police chief Wes Hensley. The suit claims Phillips advised the city manager to fire Hensley “when a multi-month investigation failed to give rise to cause for termination.”

The suit requests the city be compensated for general and special damages caused by its former attorney and her firm. The city is also asking for attorney’s fees and other costs associated with the suit, the return of unused fees and “further relief as the Court may deem proper.”

3 thoughts on “Tulare Sues Former City Attorney

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  1. I do hope there’s more to the actual complaint. To be sure, that fee seems out of line. But to me, the easiest thing to do would be to terminate the contract and then find a suitable replacement. After all, a previous Council agreed to and signed the contract for good or ill.

    The only way to recover damages, I would expect, would be to prove that their inadequate representation resulted in damages that might otherwise not have been incurred. That would be a pretty high bar I think.

  2. Dave, in the article it does discuss the damages that Heather Phillips caused. A lawyer can be sued for malpractice… either a breach of duty, they did or didn’t do something that another attorney would have done in a similar case, such as failure to act on a public records request. Another is breach of contract, not sure if this applies depends on contract but looks as though she was supposed to provide an accounting of hours and didn’t. Just looking at the article seems to me things weren’t handled professionally.

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