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County Greens Drop Suit against Feinstein

By Jorge Casuso

March 20 -- The County Green Party formally dropped a small claims suit against City Councilman Michael Feinstein Friday that sought $5,000 of the $10,000 some party members contend the former mayor took without their knowledge or permission.

The move follows a vote by the county council last Sunday to drop the suit seeking the maximum allowed in small claims court “with prejudice,” preventing an identical lawsuit from being filed later.

“I think the county council made a good choice on an internal matter, and I’m glad to see that we’re moving forward,” Feinstein said.

The move puts a halt, if not an end, to a controversy that has clouded Feinstein’s political career for more than two years and embroiled the nation’s largest county Green party in a controversy that has split its ranks and sidetracked it from its agenda.

Filed in December, the claim came two months after the District Attorney concluded that the $10,000 in Green Party Funds the former mayor allegedly embezzled was used to pay party expenses and decided not to file charges.

But since the small claims suit was filed, the makeup of the county council drastically changed, with five new members -- including Feinstein -- elected to the 11-member body in a March 2 election held in the different county districts.

The new members were joined by two other standing members who switched their original support of the suit in favor of mediation, leading to a 7 to 4 vote last Sunday.

“Supporters of Feinstein seemed eager to reverse course” and quickly moved to place the item to drop the suit on the agenda, those who opposed the move wrote in a press release issued Wednesday.

Councilman Kevin McKeown, who has been instrumental in the effort to hold his council colleague accountable for the funds, was on the losing end of the vote.

After the vote, County Council member Coby Skye quit the council in protest and Joe Crompton resigned as its co-coordinator, in effect giving up control of the agenda.

Particularly troublesome to those who opposed dropping the suit was Feinstein’s participation in a vote they viewed as a clear conflict of interest.

“Several Councilmembers suggested Feinstein should leave the room, including fellow Santa Monica City Councilmember Kevin McKeown, however Feinstein stated boldly that he had no intention of leaving the room, even of asked to,” according to the press release.

“When it was clear the discussion was not moving forward, a straw poll was taken as to whether Feinstein should be asked to leave. Seven Councilmembers raised their hands signifying they did not want to ask Feinstein to leave,” the press release said.

In a prepared statement, County council member Gabrielle Weeks, who voted against dropping the suit, said she was disillusioned by the vote.

“Actions speak louder than words -- when members of the Green Party allow unethical behavior like this to happen unchecked, it speaks volumes,” Weeks said. “All the poetic words and inclusive rhetoric in the world won't make up for it."

Feinstein’s supporters contend that because the party is not a government agency and the donation is not a government matter, the former mayor did not violate a State law barring elected officials from voting on government matters that directly affect their finances.

Feinstein and his supporters also dismiss the contention that the vote to drop the suit required a two-thirds majority, something they say is reserved for broad policy issues.

“We make a distinction between doing something that’s broad policy, like setting bylaws,” Feinstein said. “This was a single-instance individual item. It was agendized as an action item in advance.”

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