Tulare City Councilman Greg Nunley has filed a pair of lawsuits against the city he serves, one of which demands a $16.5 million payout for defamation, slander and interfering with Nunley’s real estate development business.
The second suit is an attempt to force the city to release an independent investigator’s report into alleged altercations between Councilman Carlton Jones and Tulare Police Lieutenant Jarod Boatman. In that case, the city’s legal counsel maintains the report deals with confidential personnel matters and is therefore protected from disclosure.
In both matters, Nunley is represented by Fresno-based law firm Wilkins, Drolshagen and Czeshinski, and the suits have been filed in the Tulare County Superior Court.
Scheming at City Hall
In the defamation case, Nunley’s attorneys claim the city “deliberately developed and implemented a scheme to improperly and wrongfully make false and deliberately false statements” about Nunley’s business practices.
“This scheme was developed and implemented with the specific intent to cause (Nunley) harm and to interfere and impair (Nunley) from being on a level playing field with other similarly situated real estate developers,” according to the suit.
According to filings by Nunley’s legal team, the city allegedly published or allowed to be published statements about Nunley’s supposed failure to pay development fees for several of Nunley’s real estate enterprises. The city, the suit also claims, says Nunley did not submit “proper paperwork” relating to his real estate developments. Further, the suit claims the city created false documents and altered other documents to create an impression Nunley has not paid fees his attorneys say were not due.
Unfair Treatment by City
The city, Nunley claims, also created unfair requirements for his real estate developments that were not applied to other projects, forcing him to do additional work and delaying the completion of his projects. Nunley’s suit also says the city told his potential business partners “they would be better served working with other developers,” as the city “did not support” Nunley and would intentionally delay or fail to approve his projects.
The suit demands a $16.5 million payout to cover “general, special, economic and consequential damages,” as well as punitive damages, attorneys fees and interest.
Nunley’s claims appear to be the result of evidence discovery performed by Visalia-based attorney Michael Lampe during a suit against Nunley brought by a former Tulare police officer. Five of Nunley’s former business partners, according to Lampe, said Nunley claimed ownership of property belonging to them in order to defer payment of developers fees amounting to more than $470,000.
Lampe has called for Nunley to resign his council seat.
Attorney Says City not Guilty
City Attorney Mario Zamora says the city is not responsible for statements made about Nunley because they were taken under oath by Lampe as he gathered evidence for the suit against Nunley.
“I honestly do not have the faintest clue why the city has any responsibility for that at all,” Zamora said. “Mike Lampe had specifically asked him about that because he’d (Nunley) filed the claim already.”
As a prerequisite to filing his suit against the city, in April Nunley made a claim against the city that essentially matches the claims repeated in his lawsuit. The city denied that claim, leaving Nunley six months to file suit against them.
“It basically came down to the city talking bad about him,” Zamora said of Nunley’s claim.
Nunley’s suit was filed on October 9, just before the deadline expired. The city was not informed of the lawsuit until November.
“The city was just served a few days ago,” Zamora said. “He waited a few weeks to serve us.”
Possible Conflict of Interest
While his lawsuit, which is scheduled for a case management conference on February 19, is moving forward, Nunley remains on the city council, a situation Mayor Jose Sigala believes is problematic.
“I posed the question can he serve on the council, given that he filed a suit,” Sigala said. “I shared my concern he participate in discussions of money we receive. I don’t know if he can do both.”
While Sigala says it is left to Nunley to decide if he can continue to serve the city while also taking it to court, his remaining on the council may create an impression of impropriety among Tulare’s citizens.
“I don’t see how he can serve on these particular items,” Sigala said. “I think the public would be concerned about a conflict of interest. He (Nunley) may be suspect when trying to raise revenues.”
Zamora says it is possible for Nunley to stay on the council yet not participate in matters relating to his lawsuit.
“The biggest thing for him being on the council, when we discuss his case, he won’t be allowed to participate in those closed sessions,” he said.
Nunley already recuses himself when the council makes decisions on his real estate developments.
“He usually has no issue doing that,” Zamora said.
Zamora says the city’s next step is to respond to Nunley’s suit against it within 30 days of the city being served. The city, he said, will either file an answer or a demurrer stating the suit has no legal basis to proceed.
While Nunley declined to address specific details of the pending case, he said he is in possession of evidence that supports his allegations. He also said he hopes to avoid public scrutiny while the case proceeds.
“We have all of our facts,” Nunley said. “I don’t need a media circus in the courtroom.”
Second Suit Pending
According to Zamora, the city has yet to be served with paperwork regarding Nunley’s second suit and he is unaware of its demands, though he is aware it pertains to an alleged altercations between Councilman Jones and Lieutenant Jarod Boatman of the Tulare Police Department that may have occurred following city council meetings in April and May.
“The second (lawsuit) seems to be dealing with records,” Zamora said. “I’m really not sure. We haven’t been served yet.”
Mayor Sigala also said he is not familiar with the nature of Nunley’s second lawsuit, but he speculated the suit is an attempt to obtain documents about the interaction between Jones and Boatman.
“I assume he’s been asking people to help him get the reports,” Sigala said. “I have not seen the specifics of the request by Councilmember Nunley. I’m not sure why he would have interest in this issue or why he’s filing a legal maneuver.”
Second Suit Demands Records
According to the suit, in August Nunley requested a copy of an independent investigator’s report about a personnel complaint by Boatman against Jones. The request was denied, with the city claiming personnel records are protected from disclosure.
Nunley and his lawyers, however, deny the investigator’s report contains any protected information and should be turned over.
“It’s not protected by any rights,” Nunley said. “That’s bullshit.”
Previously, the city, at the request of Lampe, released the “Rowley report,” which details the results of an investigation into claims Nunley had mistreated city employees and threatened to have them fired. The Rowley report found that Nunley was not a reliable witness and that his testimony was at odds with other evidence.
Based on the release of that report, Nunley believes the city should also release the report of the investigation regarding Jones and Boatman.
“They released the Rowley report against me,” Nunley said. “They wouldn’t release the report about Boatman.”
Nunley also said his suit is an attempt to force the city to comply with the California Public Records Act and not an attempt to champion Jones.
“The city of Tulare is breaking the law and treating people wrong. It has nothing to do with Carlton Jones,” he said. “Everyone can think I’m sticking up for Carlton Jones. I don’t care.”
Reckless Driving Charges
In another development concerning Nunley, the councilman is due in court to defend allegations he and another driver were racing at high speed while traveling from Tulare to Visalia on Mooney Boulevard. Charges of exhibition of speed and reckless driving–both misdemeanors–have been filed against him. Nunley was also allegedly driving an unregistered vehicle and driving without possession of a license.
Nunley, who said he does possess a driver’s license, admits he was exceeding the speed limit while traveling to Visalia.
“When the three lanes go to two lanes, I was speeding, no doubt about that,” he said.
He also said he was not in possession of his license at the time he was stopped.
“I didn’t have my wallet with me,” Nunley said. “I didn’t expect to get pulled over, since I was just going for ice cream.”
According to a report by the VPD, Nunley was seen “accelerating rapidly and traveling alongside another vehicle that was equally accelerating” at about 9:17pm on May 31.
“Both vehicles moved into the number 1 lane narrowly passing other vehicles at speeds near 100 mph in a 45 mph zone,” the VPD report states. “A witness described the actions of driver Nunley and the driver of the other vehicle as moving into a position next to each other where he ‘knew they were going to race.’”
The VPD allegation was filed in Tulare County Superior Court on October 15 and is a statement of probable cause to request an arrest warrant for Nunley.