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June 2, 2023

Judge denies county pursuit of Scagliotti legal fees

Court records show San Benito County has compiled nearly $600,000 in legal fees related to a 15-year-old civil matter involving former Supervisor Richard Scagliotti and has sought reimbursement from him through a lawsuit, while a judge recently ruled neither side is entitled to such funds from the other.
Fifteen years after mostly anonymous local residents calling themselves “Los Valientes” sued Scagliotti alleging corruption charges, the former District 1 supervisor and the county have continued battling each other in the courts over related matters.
Most recently, a judge on April 9 released his judgment in a 2016 lawsuit filed by the county seeking repayment of legal fees from Scagliotti — along with Scagliotti’s cross-complaint pursuing legal fees from the county — and ruled neither side owed those dollars. The county filed the lawsuit in early 2016, and it went to a trial in October 2017, records show. There was a motion for a new trial on the calendar this week as well.
It’s the latest round of litigation related to the civil lawsuit filed in 2003 by Los Valientes — the “brave ones” in Spanish — against Scagliotti alleging an array of conflict-of-interest charges. There were never any related criminal charges filed against Scagliotti.
Visiting Judge Lee Felice ruled that neither the county nor Scagliotti owed legal fees in the case. Several packets of court documents in the matter from 2003 through this month’s ruling revealed that the county had compiled at least $470,000 in legal costs in the case by the time a judge ruled against Scagliotti in 2015. Documents separately mention another $94,200 of taxpayers money, in legal costs, related to more recent civil action.
The amount paid by taxpayers overshadows the $220,000 in fines incurred by Scagliotti when he lost the case. The former supervisor, though, has racked up his own costly legal tab, telling by tens of thousands of dollars in attorney fees sought by the ex-supervisor from the county mentioned in court documents.
It all stems from a civil case that started in 2003, when the Los Valientes group and an attorney from Salinas, Michael Pekin, filed a lawsuit alleging a wide range of allegations against Scagliotti, a developer, claiming he used his office for personal gain. The Los Valientes members ended their involvement in 2004, with the lawsuit picked up by private citizen Juan Monteon.
Current District 2 Supervisor Anthony Botelho has been on the board since late 2004, so he’s been around for most of the Scagliotti ordeal. He called the matter “beyond old.”
“It’s time to put that ugly chapter of county history behind us,” Botelho said. “And that’s it.
With regard to the county defending Scagliotti for many years, Botelho had this to say:
“We certainly had the obligation to defend the county. The bottom line is that Scagliotti did not fill out his financial disclosures accurately, and it ended up being very, very costly to the county.”
Botelho said the county “made every effort to pursue reimbursement from Scagliotti.”
“And the judge doesn’t agree.”
The county counsel’s office has declined to comment, citing pending litigation.
Scagliotti was a county supervisor from 1988 to 2004. Aside from being represented by the county in the case, his private attorneys have recently included San Jose-based Mark Freschi and Hollister attorney Paul Balbas. The county has been represented by private attorney Derek Cole.
After a dozen years, a judge in 2015 made a ruling in favor of the complainants, ordering that Scagliotti used his position on the Local Agency Formation Commission panel of government officials for financial gain and also that he failed to disclose financial interest in a property.
In total, the judge ordered Scagliotti to pay $237,500, a number reduced to $220,000 in settlement talks between Pekin’s side and Scagliotti, according to court records. The former supervisor reportedly signed the settlement agreement in mid-2015, according to filings.
There have been several filings from all sides since that ruling.
Among them: Pekin sought $800,000 in legal fees from Scagliotti, but was denied in June 2015. Scagliotti sought reimbursement of the $220,000 from the settlement cost along with another $27,000 in legal costs from the county, but was denied. Scagliotti at one point also sought $88,000 in legal fees related to the most recent civil actions from the county, according to court documents.