Former Milpitas city attorney to seek at least $2.7 million for being forced out

December 17, 2015
San Jose Mercury News

In a legal claim filed with a state agency last month, a former Milpitas city attorney alleges that City Manager Tom Williams threatened to retaliate against him for beginning an investigation into a workplace complaint.

The confrontation between Williams and then-city attorney Michael Ogaz occurred in May outside the city manager's third-floor office at City Hall, according to the claim, filed Nov. 9 with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

"I'm going to get you Mike," Williams said after stating that in raising the personnel matter during an April City Council meeting Ogaz had "placed him in the crosshairs," according to the claim.

When Ogaz asked Williams "are you going to retaliate against me?" the city manager replied "yes, you bet," the claim states.

By July, Ogaz was released from his nearly eight-year job with Milpitas in a move that city officials described as a cost-saving measure. He and a deputy attorney were later replaced by Walnut Creek law firm Best, Best & Krieger LLP for a two-year, 10-month term for about $1.5 million.

The investigation Ogaz had initiated before his departure stemmed from a workplace complaint filed earlier this year by ex-planning director Steve McHarris against Williams involving use of racial slurs, age discrimination, defamation and unethical conduct with developers.

By filing the claim and receiving a "right to sue" letter from the state agency, Ogaz has begun the process of launching a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the city, according to his attorney Adam J. Zapala.

"Mr. Ogaz will be seeking a finding that he was unlawfully terminated, along with all compensatory and other damages that are available under the various legal theories we are pursuing," Zapala told the Post last week.

Zapala, with the Burlingame law firm of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy LLP, said the precise dollar figure will be the subject of expert testimony.

"We presently estimate damages at $2.7 million but they are climbing every day," Zapala said.

On Dec. 8, after Ogaz announced he was taking legal action, City of Milpitas sent out its own statement, crafted by its newly hired public relations and crisis management firm, San Francisco-based Singer Associates.

"The charges raised by former city attorney Michael Ogaz are without merit," the statement reads. "There were no retaliatory actions by the city and the decision was based solely on cost. Earlier this year, the City Council voted to eliminate two internal attorney positions after conducting a cost-benefit analysis that evaluated, among other things, the amount of legal work that was being performed by outside retained counsel, and the costs of that work as well as the costs of employing two internal attorneys. This analysis was initiated as part of the city's annual budget season, during which the City Attorney had requested to add yet another internal attorney position to the budget. After multiple public budget study sessions, the city issued a request for proposal for contract City Attorney services. In July 2015, the City Council voted to contract with an outside law firm and to eliminate the position held by City Attorney Michael Ogaz as well as another Deputy City Attorney."

The city contends that these decisions were based on budget and cost issues only... (To read the entire article, please click HERE)