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Council balks at paying legal bill

Councilman asks for help to cover tab for advice sought during contract negotiations.

April 01, 2011|By Gretchen Meier, gretchen.meier@latimes.com

The City Council this week voted to partially reimburse Councilman David Gordon, an optometrist, for legal fees he incurred determining whether his participation in employee insurance contract discussions — specifically regarding vision-care benefits — ran afoul of state law.

The council approved a partial reimbursement of $2,000. Gordon’s total legal bill in the matter was $21,893, he said.

In 2009 Gordon sought outside legal advice on the issue, removing himself from labor discussions. He voted the previous year to approve an agreement with the Burbank City Employee's Assn. to provide vision insurance through Vision Service Plan, a provider he has accepted at his private practice for the past 30 years.

According to Roman Porter, the FPPC’s executive director, Gordon would have been given the same advice if he had submitted his request as an individual, without the help of an attorney.

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However, Gordon said the legal counsel was necessary due to the complexity and lack of precedent surrounding his issue.

“It is well-known that any elected official can ask for written advice from the FPPC,” said Gordon on Friday. “But it depends on the question: this was so complicated that I had to request assistance from legal counsel to ensure it was submitted correctly.”

 Gordon maintained that the threat of legal action forced him to act swiftly.

“That quick action enabled me to obtain a quick ruling from the FPPC under the fair political practices act shielding me from further legal jeopardy,” he said.

Gordon stepped off the dias to make the request, addressing the council Tuesday as a member of the public. He noted the ruling will be of use to other medical-service professionals who also hold public office.

In order to grant the full reimbursement, the council needed to make a determination that the legal advice sought, without prior council approval, gave a direct and substantial public benefit to Burbank, according to the city attorney's office.

A city report characterized the claim as a personal expense, given that Gordon was pursuing information about whether he violated the law. In addition, the report stated, the legal advice was regarding his personal financial interests and the effect his decisions as a councilman would have on them.

Gordon disagreed with this assertion.

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