Former City Attorney Leaves Torrance Trudging through Ethical Quagmire

In a stunning revelation made on the eve of his retirement former City Attorney John Fellows admitted that he had considered prosecuting Mayor Furey for criminal violations of municipal law due to campaign finance infractions that led to a $35,000 fine from the FPPC. Violations of the municipal law in question are misdemeanor offenses carrying penalties of up to $500 or 6 months in jail per violation.

Fellows had the power and duty to enforce the law. In fact, the City Charter states that the City Attorney is “required to prosecute on the behalf of the people all criminal cases for violations of this Charter, of City Ordinances or of misdemeanor offenses.”

Ultimately, however, Fellows decided against prosecution. He failed to do his job on behalf of the people. Fellows explained his decision by citing a conflict of interest stating that, “each of the prosecutors in our office have both personal and professional relationships with one of the suspects, Torrance Mayor Patrick J. Furey, which would preclude us from reviewing this case objectively and without bias.”

Paraphrasing Fellows resident Linda Gottshall-Sayed commented that:

“There was a law that was broken, and I didn’t prosecute … because I had a conflict of interest, but after the statute of limitations ran out I ran around to a bunch of agencies and tried to find another agency to prosecute. That’s just a lot of dressing on a turkey that never got washed.”

Mayor Furey had a different take. He deflected blame for the debacle by attributing fault to the FPPC. At the last council meeting he stated:

“The FPPC didn’t tell anybody. They didn’t tell me. They didn’t tell John [Fellows]. They didn’t tell the City. They waited until the bitter end before they said anything. Had they come up and said at the outset that they were investigating it would have made a big difference. I think they [the FPPC] fell down.”

The problem with Furey’s statement is that it is blatantly false. Fellow’s own report affirms that the FPPC sent a notification letter on September 18, 2014 that it was considering an investigation into the allegations. That letter was followed by another on October 15, 2014 wherein the FPPC confirmed that an investigation was underway. There was also a Daily Breeze article that reported on the investigation that was published November 23, 2014.

To say Fellows was not aware of the allegations against Furey is not credible, but in deference to the former City Attorney he most assuredly faced a quandary. The City Attorney can be fired with only four votes of the Council. If he prosecuted he would risk the wrath of the mayor. If he did nothing, he could have been accused of not doing his job by the other six councilmembers. Fellows commanded the highest salary in the City. His total compensation in 2016 was $385,168. He was paid to make tough decisions. In the end, he found a way to argue that his hands were tied.

The decision was a politically savvy move for Fellows. Furey was not prosecuted and Fellow’s decision did not appear to raise the ire of any of Furey’s colleagues on the Council. Fellows was not fired or even publicly reprimanded for not adhering to the requirements of his job description. He is now reportedly off to Las Vegas where he can enjoy his retirement and hefty pension. Torrance, however, is left with a troubling state of affairs that has the City trudging through an ethical quagmire.

Mayor Furey received immunity from prosecution. He is effectively above the law. The bigger dilemma is that it is now uncertain what laws can be enforced and against whom. The position taken by Fellows opens the door for a multitude of people to assert, based on precedence, that they are effectively above the law or immune from prosecution due to personal or professional relationships they have with the City Attorney or anyone in that office. How many people fit under that umbrella? What about City employees? What about neighbors and personal friends or acquaintances of people in the City Attorney’s office?

Creating this class of people that are above the law can’t be a satisfying result to the majority of law abiding Torrance residents. Even Fellows recognized it was a problem. In one of his last acts as City Attorney he called for a solution that would allow any resident to bring a “private right of action” to enforce the law. The Council deflected that solution, instead opting to explore whether they could contract with the LA County District Attorney’s office for prosecutorial services.

It is unclear if that will work out. How much will it cost and under what circumstances would the need for the their services arise? To complicate the picture, the LA County DA’s office already weighed in on the matter in a prior letter to Fellows. In that letter, the office stated, “Please understand that the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office does not enforce the Torrance Municipal Code. As previously discussed, this is the province of the Torrance City Attorney. Accordingly, the decision whether or not to prosecute a potential violation is yours alone.”

In Torrance, those prosecutorial decisions currently reside with acting City Attorney Patrick Sullivan, who is also the likely frontrunner to assume Fellow’s role. In response to a query from Councilmember Herring at the last meeting, Sullivan signaled that he is inclined to side with Fellows on this issue. Of the circumstances he commented, “I actually agree with Mr. Fellows. I know it wasn’t a popular opinion that he gave … whether you want to say it’s an actual conflict or a perceived conflict it is there.”

16 comments

  • Anonymous

    Corrupt city of Torrance officials ? LOL……no kidding.

  • Linda Gottshall-Sayed

    Oh my! Nice article Clint Paulson on an issue that I am passionate about. For reference, if readers are interested in seeing the council meeting(s) on these agenda items, they can be found by viewing the City Council meeting of 9/12/17, Items 9F and 9G and the City Council meeting of 10/10/17, Item 9A. At the present time, our City Council will be looking to “contract” with the LA County DA’s office to handle the intake of complaints and prosecution. Staff will look into the matter and report back to council (no time frame yet set).

    An ethical and responsible City Attorney would have “brought” this claimed conflict of interest issue before the City Council before the statute of limitations to prosecute Mayor Furey ran out. The prosecution would have consisted of nothing more than the initial filing of charges under our statutes, and the Mayor’s Stipulation (admitting to violating the campaign laws of the Fair Political Practices Commission … ) as that Stipulation would have laid out a “prima facia” case that our city’s campaign finance laws were violated. John Fellows’ failure to bring this issue up to the City Council BEFORE the statute of limitations ran out gave this Mayor a “pass” and allowed him to escape prosecution for his illegal collusion with McCormick Ambulance in financing his campaign billboard (and for which the Mayor cast the swing vote after the election to grant them the exclusive 911 ambulance contract in Torrance). So, Mayor Furey escapes the arms of justice and John Fellows has retired. They are both attorneys. More is, and should be expected of these attorneys. I stay focused on believing that good conduct is rewarded and those that have done wrong will someday pay. Looking at this, it’s hard to keep that belief alive, but I will continue to press our City Council to hopefully ensure that justice is equally dispensed and that everyone is held to answer for their unlawful conduct in the future.

  • Larry Corrao

    Great post Clint.
    I sincerely hope the residents of Torrance remember all of the corruption surrounding Furey when they vote at the next election.

    • Linda Gottshall-Sayed

      Larry: Me too. I will do my best to remind them. I am certain I won’t have to poke the bear to get his ugly side out … that’s easy to do with him. Just the sight of me make his blood boil (as the sight of him makes mine boil)

  • Anonymous

    From a simple review of the facts presented above,and the videos (not the minutes) of the city council meetings, it is quite clear that John Fellows deliberately alowed the statute of limitations to run out, and in exchange was given a huge raise prior to his retirement. I strongly believe that he knew this would come up during the current election, and so he retired and is leaving town to avoid taxes and being exposed for the fraud that he is. Not only that, but many other crimes in Torrance have gone unpunished, the City has been litigated to death, and often found iteself onthe wrong side of the law under his failed legal leadership. It would be a huge mistake to consider awarding the position to any prior member of his staff, they have clearly failed the people opof Torrance as wll by not standing up for what is right, and pressuring their boss to prosecute on behalf of the public. The inside cirle of corrupt friends and family of the Torrance leaders is quite evident. The City of Torrance is as dirty as it gets, time to clean house!

  • Anonymous

    Great article. From a legal standpoint, can anything be done again at Mr Fellows?

    • Anonymous

      Meant to say *against Mr Fellows.

      • Linda Gottshall-Sayed

        Not from a legal standpoint, really. In the private sector, what occurred may amount to malpractice, and his “client” might be entitled to recover damages from his professional insurance carrier for any losses they suffered. That course of action does not seem to apply in this case. He has retired and left the City, so no reprimand would be forthcoming either.

  • Jim Tracy

    Dirty Rats finally someone else has recognized the criminal acts that our own local government is doing and what really bakes my beans is that I am paying them in tax dollars to do this.

  • Jim Tracy

    We don’t need your name we have your IP address!!

  • Jim McGee

    A great article Clint. Now to get the Daily Brteeze to follow up on this subject insead of their “soft ball” handling of Torrance city corruption. In not doing hard articles on the city operations, does that mean that they are “in bed” with the city administration? YES it does.

    • Linda Gottshall-Sayed

      Jim … I think the Daily Breeze has done a fair job in reporting on this subject thus far. How do you feel they are being soft in their reporting? Is the content “soft” or do you feel the articles do go into depth enough? The first hearing before City Council on this matter was September 12, 2017. We had a handful of residents “speak” at orals under the matter, and there hasn’t been the resident “presence” UP IN ARMS over this at City Hall in the meetings that have followed either. I am certain that if the residents demonstrated their disgust by personally appearing and saying so under Oral Communciations … the Daily Breeze would catch wind of that!!!

  • Anonymous

    The Daily Breeze did 2 very good articles on Fury the crook. I believe the last one was in Sept. along with the sudden retirement of the Chief of police.

  • Linda Gottshall-Sayed

    On next Tuesday’s agenda is the appointment of Patrick Sullivan as our City Attorney. The hearing is 11/7/17 at City Council Chambers. I am unaware of any other potential candidates.

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