Fire board dispute in small claims court

The fire board controversy may not be the controversy with the most outright lies and distortions ever to occur on the Coastside but it probably ranks as the controversy with the most lies and distortions recorded on video, in the news, and on social media sites. It was perhaps only a matter of time before some of this material found its way to the courts.

On April 10, 2012 (note the date, this was almost one year ago), Mike Alifano, a fire board director subject to the upcoming April 9th recall, was accused of defamation and libel for comments he made about a former fire board director. Alifano’s comments were made as part of a written Q&A in the online news site, Patch.

In his text, published on February 29, 2012, he wrote that, during the process of merging the Half Moon Bay and Point Montara fire departments, two former fire board directors voted themselves a retroactive pay raise. Such a vote, if true, would be unethical and probably illegal.

Alifano wrote:

Ultimately the Fire Board became controlled by the very firefighters that caused all the issues, problems and lawsuits. They were new Fire Board members voting for their own retroactive raises and controlling their very own destiny. They then tried to seal “their deal” with the CalFire contract. That’s the “conflict of interest” that got us to where we are today.

(See the answer to Question #6 at the Half Moon Bay Patch)

The vote in question appears to be from the December 6, 2005 meeting of the Half Moon Bay Fire Board of Directors.

Lane Lees, claiming it was easy to identify himself as one of the two directors and citing tape recordings of the meeting in question which showed that Lees did not vote on the health care benefits matter, took the matter to small claims court on February 27th of this year, asking for $750 in restitution.

Lees is a former firefighter on the coast and receives health benefits associated with his service.

A transcript of the official tape recording of the meeting indicates that Lees did recuse himself from the vote.

Alifano countered Lees’ accusations, asking the judge to award him $4062.29 in attorney’s fees, saying that Lees had been harassing him and threatening him with lawsuits, and suggesting that as a former public official Lees could not seek damages for defamation. (Note, on Alifano’s Facebook page, in a post made the day of the hearing, he claimed attorney costs of $20,000, although it wasn’t immediately clear if that $20,000 was entirely attributed to this case or if there are other cases.).

After about an hour of testimony from both sides Commissioner Kathleen M. McKenna declined to rule immediately, instead setting a date of April 22nd for her final decision. Though the judge did not give any specific instructions, the delay is apparently intended to give Alifano the opportunity to offer an acceptable retraction and for the case to be dropped.

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