Court Criticizes Local Governments’ Waste of Tax Dollars on Litigation Prior to Settlement

In a published opinion filed May 26, the Third District Court of Appeal blasted Imperial County and the Imperial County Air Pollution Control District for engaging in costly litigation for more than 10 years before ultimately settling the dispute.

In Quantification Settlement Agreement Cases, the court wrote:

“With our apologies to T. S. Eliot, it appears that this is how more than a decade of contentious litigation over the Quantification Settlement Agreement ends, ‘[n]ot with a bang, but a whimper,’ as the County of Imperial (the County) and the Imperial County Air Pollution Control District (the Air District) have filed written stipulations to dismiss their remaining appeals in these coordinated cases, leaving only a protective cross-appeal by several respondents that will be rendered moot by the requested dismissals and an appeal of a postjudgment costs order by several other parties that remains to be resolved.

“The County and the Air District seek to dismiss their appeals pursuant to the terms of a settlement reached with one of their (now former) opponents – the Imperial Irrigation District (the Irrigation District). After nearly 12 years of legal fisticuffs – at trial and on appeal in both state and federal court – the Imperial County agencies have apparently decided that cooperation will serve better than contention to address the continuing deterioration of the Salton Sea, which faces a sharp decrease in water inflow two years from now under the terms of the Quantification Settlement Agreement. …

“Although we commend the Imperial County agencies for finally settling this matter, we cannot help but lament the lateness of the hour in which they chose to do so. In the decade and more that has passed since the Quantification Settlement Agreement was finalized in 2003, it is likely that untold millions of dollars have been poured into litigation that has now come to naught. In addition to this drain on the public fisc of the various public agency parties to the litigation, state and federal courts have expended countless hours adjudicating these matters – hours that could have been devoted to the expeditious resolution of other cases. Indeed, this court alone has seen eight different original and appellate proceedings arising from the Quantification Settlement Agreement cases.

“Still, lamenting the time and money wasted will not turn back the clock or refill the public coffers, so we take what small comfort we can in the fact that this belated settlement did not come even later, when yet more time and more money would have been irretrievably lost.”

Illustrating the cost to taxpayers, the opinion includes a nearly two-page list of attorneys and law firms who represented state and local government entities in the coordinated cases.

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