There will be no payout of $16.5 million for Tulare Councilman Greg Nunley from the city he represents. There will be payouts, however, for three of the five Tulare Police Department officers who sued the city following the release of a confidential report by Councilman Carlton Jones in 2018.
Nunley, City Settle Suit
Following the release of information by the city regarding Nunley’s allegedly unpaid development impact fees, Nunley sued the city for libel and defamation, claiming his ability to do business as a real estate developer had been harmed. Nunley further claimed city employees were hampering his developments, placing additional requirements on his projects to which other similar projects were not subjected. The suit demanded a payment of $16.5 million.
On its part, the city claimed Nunley’s reputation was already degraded by his own actions, citing several lawsuits filed against him and his businesses for breach of contract, as well as pointing to an independent report that found Nunley was an unreliable witness who often contradicted himself.
Under the terms of the settlement, Nunley’s lawsuit has been withdrawn, and both parties will pay their own legal costs, said Tulare Mayor Jose Sigala.
“I appreciate all who worked to move on from the lawsuit,” he said. “I think it’s time to move on. I think it’s important for the city.”
Nunley could not be reached for comment.
Settlement a Second Chance
“It’s an opportunity for us to focus on what’s important: homelessness, bringing more business into the city,” Sigala said of the settlement. “I’m glad it’s not a distraction.”
The council was scheduled to formally accept the terms of the settlement during a closed session meeting on Tuesday, March 3. Sigala said a statement will be issued following the meeting.
“I wouldn’t want it to be private,” Sigala said. “If the city has anything to do with letting the public know what happened, I’ll support it. The public should know what happened.”
The lawsuit had created concerns of a possible conflict of interest for Nunley that may have prevented him from voting on items regarding the city’s income, according to Sigala. The settlement will end those fears.
“I’m hoping it’s an opportunity for us to work together best we can continue going forward,” Sigala said. “For me, it removes the concern of the city councilman working on any issue to bring in revenue. Now that it’s been resolved, I see no reason he should not participate like any other councilman.”
Officers’ Lawsuits Settled
The city has also authorized a payout of $44,000 to one current and two former officers of the Tulare Police Department. The trio sued the city following the disclosure of a report into conduct of officers at the TPD.
Receiving payouts are former TPD officer Jacob Adney, who will receive $18,000; retired TPD officer James Kelly, who will be paid $8,000; and officer Tim Ramierez, who will be paid $18,000 to settle his suit out of court.
“That was a result of Carlton (Jones) releasing that personnel file. He released it to the media and the public,” Sigala said. “Instead of going to trial, we settled.”
The three officers who settled their suits against the city were represented by the same attorney. Two other officers represented by other counsel have yet to reach an agreement with the city, Sigala said.
Settlements Save Money
Attorney Mandy Jeffcoach–who is acting as the city’s special counsel in the lawsuits brought by its officers–said the settlements are intended to save the city the cost of fighting the claims.
“In order to avoid formal litigation, which would have subjected the city to tens of thousands of dollars in attorneys fees, in which attorney fees were not recoverable, we agreed to enter into a tolling agreement, which was approved by city council to delay the filing of a lawsuit,” she said.
The three settled suits demanded $300,000 in compensation for the officers. The total settlement amount is $44,000.
“And, while, yes, that is admittedly a lot of money, that is considerably below the amount that the attorneys fees would have been in this case,” Jeffcoach said.
Attorney fees for fighting the suits, she said, would have cost the city some $100,000. She also emphasized the city was not responsible for Jones’ releasing the confidential information.
“The city’s position was that it was not liable for the independent actions of Mr. Jones in his individual capacity of obtaining a report that the city had repeatedly indicated was confidential,” Jeffcoach said.
Jones’ Conflict of Interest
Approving the settlement of the three officers’ suits was included on the council’s consent calendar for its February 18 meeting, however, the item was pulled for discussion, leading to an attempt by Jones to argue he’d done nothing wrong. Jones attempted to assert he had obtained a legal argument that allowed him to release the report on the officers’ conduct as a matter of public record.
Jeffcoach, however, interjected as Jones spoke, reminding him he had recused himself of previous discussions of the suits because of his conflict of interest.
“I do not believe that Councilman Jones should have any discussion on this item, unless he’s a member of the public, because as a city councilman who was named personally in the three claims asserted by the officers, there’s an inherent and actual conflict of interest that he should not be voting on or commenting up here as a councilman,” she said.
Jones ignored Jeffcoach and continued to plead his case, prompting Sigala to attempt to silence him. An angry exchange followed.
“The councilmember decides when they have a conflict of interest, not the attorney,” Jones said after declining to stop his commentary.
“Well, I could turn off your mic,” Sigala told him.
“That’s fine,” Jones responded. “And, I don’t have a conflict of interest.”
‘Reckless, Irresponsible Individual’
Sigala then allowed Jones to continue.
“If you hear the truth, that you’re trying to cover up, then it’s not that if an officer is suing the city of Tulare for actions against him in Fresno, and you’re paying him, then you’re the ATM that’s giving away city money,” Jones said.
Jones claims the city will end up paying out $600,000 if it settles the five lawsuits brought by TPD officers. Sigala countered that Jones knew the document was confidential and the city would be open to litigation when Jones dispersed it. He also accused Jones of behaving illegally to obtain the report.
“You conspired with the previous city attorney,” he said.
“This is how hard you want to hide that you’re giving away city dollars,” Jones countered as the argument continued.
While the two talked over each other, Jones continued to argue the report of the officers’ behavior was not privileged information.
“That wasn’t a confidential report,” he said. “It was subject to public records request. It’s subject to public record. It’s public record.”
Whether the document was originally confidential was no longer relevant, Sigala said.
“No one is hiding it because you put it on Facebook,” he told Jones. “You’re a reckless, irresponsible individual.”