When we last discussed the lawsuit filed by Chris Gurr and Ann Borges against Mendocino County and Fish & Wildlife, we thought their claim sounded good against Fish & Wildlife, but kinda weak for Mendocino County’s role.
The Gurr-Borges property on the Ukiah end of the Boonville Road was raided in August of 2017 by Fish and Wildlife on allegations that they were growing pot with creek water. Gurr-Borges have paperwork proving otherwise. F&W ripped out the entire Gurr-Borges grow, while holding them in handcuffs as they watched the wardens take everything in the grow, including several hundred plants and their permit official paperwork. Gurr-Borges were near the end of their permit process at the time, but had not received final approval. The wardens didn’t care about any steenking paperwork nor did they check with Mendo before yanking out the plants.
As we mentioned in our August report, Gurr-Borges filed suit in July in federal court, listing several Mendocino County employees and officials as instrumental in the disputed August 2017 raid.
However, that first filing didn’t offer much about Mendo’s role in the “conspiracy” to deny Gurr-Borges a permit and ultimately have their pot garden raided.
But in a recently amended complaint, the plot thickens.
Gurr-Borges and their attorneys, John Scott of San Francisco and William Cohan of Rancho Santa Fe (Southern California), provide some intriguing new allegations under a heading entitled “Additional Facts Re Conspiracy Claim.”
“The conspiracy was initially formed between defendant Anzilotti and co-conspirator Steve White [of Fish & Wildlife] for the purpose of depriving the plaintiffs of their property (cannabis) under false pretenses, i.e., suspected water diversion from a local creek. Thereafter, the conspiracy evolved to include members of the Board of Supervisors, John McCowen and Carre Brown, with the goal of depriving the plaintiffs of a permit to cultivate cannabis approved by [then-Ag ]Commissioner [Diane] Curry as the final decisionmaker for the County. In furtherance of the conspiracy, John McCowen recruited Assistant County Counsel Matthew Kiedrowski to prevent the permit approved by Commissioner Curry from being delivered to the plaintiffs. The conspiracy then evolved to also include defendant [former Third District Supervisor] Georgeann Croskey. The goal was to change the County zoning plan to create an ‘opt-out’ provision targeting the plaintiffs. As a result of the new ordinance, plaintiffs were the only qualified persons in the County who were prohibited from cultivating cannabis in an agricultural zone.”
[ms notes: We had heard that there were some pot growers in the Westport Area that would also have been denied permits under an “opt-out” approach.]
“Defendant [and neighbor of Gurr-Borges] Sue Anzilotti was politically connected to members of the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors, John McCowen and Carre Brown. When Sue Anzilotti began to complain publicly against the Plaintiffs to various state and local agencies she also complained privately to many officials — including John McCowen and Carre Brown.
Co-conspirator John McCowen played a leading and influential role among a majority of the Board of Supervisors. With that apparent authority he formed a special relationship with Deputy County Counsel Matthew Kiedrowski, another co-conspirator. Matthew Kiedrowski was assigned by [then-] County Counsel Kit Elliot to oversee the Cannabis Program that was under the jurisdiction of the Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture.
Sometime after the Plaintiffs submitted their application in May 2017 Commissioner Curry was informed by Matthew Kiedrowski that John McCowen would never allow the Plaintiffs’ project to be approved.
After the Plaintiffs amended their application to include an inland site in Willits to satisfy the prior cultivation requirement, Commissioner Curry decided to issue the (B)(3) permit and informed the Plaintiffs of this decision. However, co-conspirator Matthew Kiedrowski intervened and prevented the permit from being delivered. He claimed the permit could not be delivered until the Commissioner received proof that cultivation had ceased and would not be resumed at the origin site.
The Plaintiffs hired an attorney and the requested “Agreement Not to Resume Cannabis Cultivation” was provided to Matthew Kiedrowski. See Exhibit D attached. Nevertheless, the approved permit was now being held hostage, under color of state law, by Matthew Kiedrowski in furtherance of the conspiracy between Sue Anzilotti and John McCowen. In addition, co-conspirators McCowen and Kiedrowski were acting as de facto final decision makers for the County of Mendocino improperly negating the decision of the [Ag] Commissioner.
Beginning on or about November 2017, and in furtherance of the conspiracy, John McCowen and Carre Brown, at the request of defendant Anzilotti and other neighbors of the plaintiffs, participated in a process to create an “opt-out” zone designed to prevent the plaintiffs from cultivating cannabis on their property notwithstanding plaintiffs’ permit being approved by Commissioner Curry.
In March 2018 Commissioner Curry retired from her position as Interim Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture. This is not the only case where members of the Board of Supervisors attempted to influence Commissioner Curry through Deputy County Counsel Matthew Kiedrowski.
Commissioner Curry was ultimately succeeded by Harinder Grewal. [Ag] Commissioner Grewal signed a letter prepared by Matthew Kiedrowski dated July 9, 2018. The letter was sent by the County of Mendocino on or about that date officially notifying the Plaintiffs their application for a permit was denied with the purported reason for the denial.”
[ms notes: Exhibit G essentially says that the prior cultivation requirement must be at the same location in the current permit application.]
“The reason proffered for the denial is both false and pretextual.
The “opt-out” amendment included as part of Ordinance No. 4420, (Exhibit H attached), Section 11, at page 24, targeted only two neighborhoods in the entire County. Of the two, the plaintiffs’ property was located in the Boonville/Woodyglen CP District, an area zoned agricultural. This unprecedented political experiment gave a right to plaintiffs’ neighbors to decide whether to “opt-out” of the zoning plan and thus prevent plaintiffs from exercising their right to cultivate cannabis on their property. Plaintiffs were the only qualified persons in an agricultural zone in the County adversely affected by the ‘opt-out’ amendment to the zoning plan.
In furtherance of the conspiracy, on December 4, 2018 a new ordinance was passed by defendants John McCowen, Carre Brown and Georgeanne Croskey. It created an ‘opt-out’ zone designed to prohibit the plaintiffs from cultivating cannabis on their property. This zoning decision was made for no legitimate reason and was based on impermissible motives. On information and belief, this was the first time a County in the State of California created an opt-out zone in the zoning plan that prevented a property owner from cultivating cannabis based solely on the vote of neighbors.”
* * *
We assume attorneys Scott and Cohan have a documentary basis for this alleged “conspiracy.” There are certainly other ways to spin the now-defunct and unworkable “opt-out” zone idea which wouldn’t necessarily make Gurr-Borges an intentional target of the bumbling pot permit program’s wasteful and haphazard development and management. (If the Board had simply used the existing zoning/permit process, the opt-out approach would be pointless.)
The County has already authorized expensive outside attorneys to represent them in the Gurr-Borges case. If the case isn’t settled in the mean time, it will be interesting to see the relevant emails and depositions of the parties involved. If the case reaches that point, next year at the earliest, McCowen and Brown will be former Supervisors.
We’ll see if “limited immunity” protects Supervisors, John McCowen and Carre Brown.
Limited immunity is a legal doctrine in United States federal law that shields government officials from being sued for discretionary actions performed within their official capacity, unless their actions violated “clearly established” federal law or constitutional rights.
This is going to be interesting case. The county is spending boo koo bucks to defend itself by hiring outside counsel.
They’re being sued in their “Individual Capacity”, John. An individual capacity damages action is an action against the official personally, so that, if the suit is successful, the official is liable personally for damages. They will have to hire their own attorney’s as well. The taxpayers are not going to be left on the hook for this one, not entirely anyway.
The County will be on the hook for what they did, the CEO and County Counsel’s office can not defend themselves on this one, that’s why they’re hiring outside counsel. The 3 rich supervisors listed in the suit all have big money, and I think Gurr/Borges has taken their actions personally. What to they say about paybacks?