News - October 8, 2008

Atherton: Ex-official seeks $1 million from town

by Andrea Gemmet

John Johns, Atherton's former finance director, is seeking $1 million in damages from the town for "malicious prosecution."

Mr. Johns filed the $1 million claim with Atherton on Oct. 2, a year after he was fired following a personnel investigation stemming from allegations that he created a hostile workplace.

Mr. Johns maintains that he was investigated and fired in retaliation for auditing the town's building department and uncovering problems with employee expense accounts, among other things.

In his claim, Mr. Johns says town officials acted with "reckless disregard for the truth" when they asked the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office to prosecute Mr. Johns for allegedly using town time and resources to pursue his outside consulting jobs.

The San Mateo County District Attorney's Office investigated, but ultimately declined to press charges against Mr. Johns, saying there was no evidence that the town suffered any damages.

"My demand for $1 million in compensation from the Town of Atherton for malicious prosecution isn't about the money. It is about reclaiming my professional reputation and restoring respect for the rule of law," Mr. Johns said in a written statement to The Almanac. "In pursuing this claim I hope to minimize the likelihood that a finance director in Atherton, or any other City for that matter, will suffer such severe retaliation for blowing the whistle on official misconduct."

Atherton City Attorney Marc Hynes had no comment on Mr. Johns' million-dollar claim, saying he had just received it and expected to go over it next week with Louis Leone, the town's outside counsel.

In mid-September, Mr. Johns filed several extensive California Public Records Act requests seeking, among other things, e-mails and documents on police department expense accounts, Councilman Charles Marsala's investigation of Mr. Johns, and all communications between the former police chief, former interim city manager, and two other town staffers.

Even without the records he requested, Mr. Johns says in his claim that he has ample documentation to support his request for damages.

"Please ask yourself whether you or any other prudent public-sector chief executive would consider hiring me as a finance director with the stain of a criminal complaint having been launched against me," he said in the claim.

Since his dismissal, Mr. Johns has twice filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against Atherton. He withdrew his first complaint in March, when a San Mateo County Superior Court judge told him he would have to choose between suing the town and avoiding the possibility of incriminating himself in the District Attorney's criminal investigation.

Mr. Johns re-filed a slightly amended version of the lawsuit on June 18, after the county district attorney's office dropped its investigation, but withdrew it without comment in August.


Posted by Charles Marsala, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Oct 14, 2008 at 8:51 pm

During the last two years, former Finance Director John Johns has gone to the press four times to critize other Atherton staff members; starting with Building Official Mike Hood (ret.), Chief Bob Brennan (ret.), City Manager Jim Robinson (ret.), and former Assistant to the City Manager and Interim City Manager Wende Protzman (now Assistant City Manager of Solana Beach).

Now City Attorney Marc Hynes' actions are being criticized.

As with the above members of staff, my opinion is that Marc Hynes acted appropriately, and the criticism is unwarranted. There was no "malicious prosecution."

John Johns used town equipment for his outside consulting work, and was repeatedly asked to correct his time card and take vacation or sick time for days not in the Atherton Town Hall.

The District Attorney thought it appropriate to investigate these actions and Marc Hynes represented Atherton well during the investigation.

Charles Marsala
Council Member

Posted by michael stogner, a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 17, 2008 at 9:45 pm

I hear the former Finance Director has issued a public records request for Charles Marsala's personal e-mail account.

Apparently Charles thought he could avoid the California Public Records Act by using his personal e-mail account for Town business

If I were Charles I wouldn't try and pull a Frank Quatrone and "tidy up his mailbox" after all. There's a new majority on the Council and he may no longer have as many friends in town as he once did.

Who knows who might be monitoring his Yahoo account at the moment. (Can you spell REACT Task Force?)

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