News - June 16, 2010

Atherton pays $619,000 in John Johns case

by Renee Batti

The town of Atherton paid a total of about $393,200 in attorney fees to investigate former finance director John Johns, and to fight the lawsuit he subsequently filed against the town, Atherton officials announced on June 8.

With the $225,000 settlement Atherton paid to Mr. Johns in April, plus another $1,305 in an employee tax, the town's total bill is $619,500. The employee tax, for Medicare, was required because part of Mr. Johns' settlement was paid as back wages.

Mr. Johns sued the town in 2008 over his October 2007 firing, claiming his termination was in retaliation for blowing the whistle on fiscal improprieties in Atherton's building department and other departments.

He had filed an earlier wrongful termination lawsuit, and offered to settle the matter for a $10,000 pay-out, he said. When the town refused, he abandoned that lawsuit, but filed another after a criminal investigation by the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office was dropped.

Mr. Johns was hired as the town's finance director in 2001. In 2006, he conducted an audit of the town's building department, which had already undergone two previous internal audits, as well as a personnel investigation because of irregularities.

Mr. Johns' audit recommended more oversight of the department, and singled out problematic properties that appeared not to be in compliance with town building law.

In August 2007, he was put on administrative leave while a private attorney hired by the town conducted an investigation into complaints against him. The investigator's report painted Mr. Johns as a bully who may have improperly done outside work while on the town's time, but did not include charges of wrongdoing.

Mr. Johns, who called the report from the investigation flawed and inaccurate, was nevertheless fired several weeks after being placed on leave.

The investigation, conducted by the Mary Topliff law firm, cost the town $10,010, according to the town's June 8 statement.

The other legal costs broke down as follows: Stubbs & Leone law firm, $157,647; McDonough, Holland & Allen PC, town attorney Wynne Furth's law firm, $126,237; and Atkinson-Farasyn LLP, former town attorney Marc Hynes' law firm, $99,292.


Posted by John P Johns, a resident of another community
on Jun 15, 2010 at 10:15 pm

The Town's accounting is both in error and incomplete.

The investigation by Topliff cost $50,000 including the use of a computer forensics firm hired to assist Topliff.

It also cost the Town $28,000 to place me on administrative leave and to hire a replacement for me while I was on paid leave during the two month investigation.

Posted by Ed, a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 16, 2010 at 12:00 am

So... the tab was more like 700,000$ that the town spent on attorneys to persecute Mr, Johns and discredit his audit....
and all of that just to cover up for the avarice of a hand full of especially favored and already overly privileged customers of the building department. I guess I would feel like royalty myself if I controlled the government with my very whim, and by proxy of my trust fund. I bet none of the culpable parties feel even the slightest pang of embarrassment, let alone guilt, about the damage that they have caused. Is being elite what makes Atherton so special? Rarified air, but devoid of oxygen.

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