Former police union law firm closes due to allegations of fraud

An Upland-based law firm used by Claremont police during the most recent contract negotiations is ceasing operations after allegations of fraudulent billing practices and controversy over its aggressive tactics.

Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir, one of the largest firms representing police unions in southern California, “will be winding down and eventually close,” stated managing partner Dieter Dammeier in a letter first obtained by The Daily Pilot. A time schedule for the firm’s closure is unknown. Law office officials have not responded to requests for comment at this time.

The firm reported “a mass exodus” of attorneys caused by recent “turmoil” leading to the decision to close. In September, the Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC), a law enforcement political lobbying group, voted to remove the law firm from its Legal Defense Fund list of approved attorneys. The decision was based on alleged unethical behavior discovered through a certified fraud examiner’s report.   

“Recently the Legal Defense Board of Trustees found that the former penal law firm Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir has committed serious acts of misconduct regarding their billing practices,” said Ron Cottingham, president of PORAC, in a letter dated September 10. “As a result, Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir has been removed from the Legal Defense Fund panel of approved providers.”

Allegations include overbilling the Legal Defense fund—which provides legal service benefits to more than 99,000 public safety personnel across the country—and submitting billing forms for business trips that never took place, according to Mr. Cottingham’s letter.  A “continued analysis and investigation to more precisely quantify the losses” is currently taking place, Mr. Cottingham stated further. Earlier this month, Orange County district attorney investigators served a search warrant at the law firm’s office and at Mr. Dammeier’s Rancho Cucamonga home. They were reportedly seen leaving the office with boxes of documents.

Mr. Dammeier and his law firm represented the Claremont Police Officers’ Association (CPOA) during the 2011 contract negotiations, a process riddled with controversy including several lawsuits. Under Mr. Dammeier’s guidance, the CPOA filed charges against the city of Claremont and the Claremont Chamber of Commerce in January 2012. Both suits were eventually dropped.  

The CPOA ended its partnership with Mr. Dammeier several months ago, after rumors began circulating about the PORAC audit. Claremont Detective Rick Varney says the association has since contracted with a firm in Santa Monica.

“We were using Dieter Dammeier for several years and had limited success,” Det. Varney said. “We have since severed our ties, but wish them the best.”

Fraud issues weren’t the only problems plaguing the local law firm. The firm has been at the center of a yearlong controversy over its aggressive, hardball tactics. Government officials—including two Orange County politicians who sued the firm for harassment in August 2012—have complained that the firm bullies politicians. In fact, Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir published a playbook for hardball tactics in contract negotiations. The playbook, printed on the firm’s website, suggested targeting individual politicians opposed to salary raises by using embarrassment or intimidation. The playbook has since been removed from the website.

In 2012, during an impasse in negotiations between the city and the CPOA, Councilmember Corey Calaycay received one such letter from the Committee of Police & Fire Associations Inspiring Responsible Elections (COPFIRE), of which Mr. Dammeier was a board member. The letter accused Mr. Calaycay “of not making public safety a priority” and insisted the organization would “actively oppose” him in “any future elections.”

Despite Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir’s history in successfully representing public safety unions, Det. Varney said he was skeptical of Mr. Dammeier’s aggressive negotiation tactics and the way he handled the 2011 contract negotiations. The excessive lawsuits were part of the reason Det. Varney decided to resume his role as CPOA president in 2012. His first order of business was to put an end to the litigation.

“Dieter’s way of negotiating was to put a lawsuit against you to get you to negotiate,” Det. Varney said. “That was not what we wanted.”

With the firm’s collapse, Mr. Dammeier has stated that he will continue to represent select union groups.

—Beth Hartnett

news@claremont-courier.com

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