Mayor Brand, Councilman Nehrenheim prevail in Redondo Beach election lawsuit
by David Mendez
Redondo Beach Mayor Bill Brand, Councilman Nils Nehrenheim and Rescue Our Waterfront PAC President Wayne Craig prevailed on Tuesday, Nov. 20 in a lawsuit that accused them of violating election law in 2017.
It was also determined, after Brand’s attorney called plaintiff attorney Bradley Hertz to the witness stand, that Redondo Beach Waterfront LLC, a subsidiary of estranged Redondo Beach development partner CenterCal Properties, was paying the legal fees for plaintiffs Chris Voisey and Arnette Travis.
L.A. County Superior Court Judge Malcolm Mackey found in favor of defendants Brand, Nehrenheim, ROW PAC and Brand campaign Treasurer Linda Moffatt, rejecting all claims by the plaintiffs.
“It’s vindication once again,” Nehrenheim said. “All we’ve done is tell the truth, tell people what we believe in… and throughout everything, we just keep winning.”
Voisey and Travis’s complaint, filed in July 2017, argued that ROW PAC had violated election law by registering with the Secretary of State as a General Purpose Committee, which can boost multiple candidates and ballot measures in an election cycle.
They believe ROW PAC should have registered as a Primarily Formed Committee, which organizes around one particular concern — in this case, Measure C, a harbor-area rezoning plan. Measure C, which was floated in response to CenterCal’s waterfront redevelopment plan, was written, circulated and promoted by Rescue Our Waterfront organizers Nehrenheim, Craig and Martin Holmes.
But Mackey accepted the analysis of expert witness Amber Maltbie, who stated that the amount spent by ROW PAC on its support of Measure C did not meet the threshold for reviewing its status, much less a threshold to change its purpose.
Mackey also seemed swayed by the swift correction of an error made during ROW PAC’s registration, where they initially attempted to register as both General Purpose and Primarily Formed.
“I see them as trying to wrestle with forms,” Mackey said to Hertz. “The citizens are trying to do their best… that’s what citizens do.”
Mackey was unmoved by plaintiff’s arguments that Brand and Nehrenheim were secretly controlling ROW PAC in violation of campaign finance law. He found, instead, that candidates often ally themselves with common causes, and rejected arguments that shared in-kind campaign donations — such as walk-lists shared among the committees — constituted coordination among the candidates and the PAC.
Among the trial’s most dramatic scenes was late Monday afternoon, when attorney Hertz was called to the witness stand by the defense counsel. Hertz’s client Chris Voisey had just stepped down, after being asked to explain who was funding the lawsuit.
“It’s not usually done, but it can be done,” Mackey said, as Hertz approached the stand.
ROW PAC defense counsel Bobek Nayebdadash first asked if Hertz was representing the clients on a “pro bono” basis — for free — which he denied.
What followed was a series of thrusts and parries between the two litigators, with multiple objections to defense’s questions overruled by Mackey, before Nayebdadash asked flat-out, who was paying for Hertz to be there that day.
“Must I answer that?” Hertz looked to Mackey, who replied “yes.”
“Redondo Beach Waterfront LLC,” Hertz said.
This revelation came back during Tuesday’s closing arguments, when Mackey asked Hertz if Voisey and Travis are “sham clients,” since they’re not putting their own financial stakes into the case.
After Mackey announced his findings and decision, the parties poured into the hallway outside the courtroom. While the defendants celebrated, the plaintiffs gathered to consider their next steps.
“I felt it was an insult,” Travis said of Mackey’s “sham client” phrasing. “Just because someone lacks the material wherewithal to defend a cause they believe in should not exclude them.”
Hertz followed, saying that the two, as residents, have jurisdiction and standing under the law to make their case. He also said that they will be considering taking the case to the appellate court.
When asked, Hertz said he did not recall how he met Voisey and Travis.
Voisey said he has not spoken to Redondo Beach Waterfront LLC (and CenterCal) principals regarding this case.
Down the hall, the defendants celebrated with their attorneys Nayebdadash, Jeanne Zimmer and Steve Colin.
All of the defendants had felt the case weigh on them, but none was as visibly relieved as Brand, who dropped his face into his hands as the judge stated his findings.
“We knew all along that CenterCal was funding this vindictive action, but it took 17 months and thousands of dollars donated by residents and from ourselves to get our day in court,” Brand said.
“Thankfully, the judge saw what was really going on and summed it up by labeling Arnette Travis and Chris Voisey as ‘shills’ — shills for a developer who had lost the heart and soul of the community. And I’ll leave it at that.”