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A Bill Comes Due

At least Sisyphus had the sense to push a boulder up a hill. The Mendocino Coast Health Care District (MCHCD) Board of Directors seems intent on continually attaching bigger and bigger rocks to itself then figuratively jumping off the end of the pier. How many times can one type the word dysfunctional? The answer my friends is not blowing in the wind, but sinking to new depths.

Documents recently obtained by the AVA show MCHCD Board members have repeatedly used the services of an attorney the board as a whole rejected the contract of, once officially then again apparently in a closed session decision six months later.

The background: On June 10, 2021, in closed session, the MCHCD Board of Directors voted to appoint Fort Bragg attorney Jacob Patterson as district legal counsel. A contract, dated June 10th, remained unsigned or approved throughout the next two months while Patterson seemingly served the board as a legal adviser. An invoice obtained by the AVA indicates Patterson billing for about $9,000 between June 10, 2021 and August 26, 2021.

At an August 26th MCHCD Board meeting, the legal counsel contract between Patterson and the district made it onto the agenda. With two board members abstaining, the board voted two to one against agreeing to the contract.

From that point forward, documents obtained by the AVA demonstrate that two board members (John Redding and Norman deVall) abided by the decision, ceasing connection to Patterson after August 26th. A third board member, past chair Jessica Grinberg, shows up in Patterson's invoices seven times: an eighteen minute phone call in November that Grinberg may not have realized was a billable item at the time. Nevertheless, she appears to have initiated the call. Her other six contacts with Patterson occurred in the second month of this year and seem to be focused on the issue of a February 8th event in which zoom recordings apparently disappeared or were deleted. One could say that Grinberg's role therein was as an investigator. It is unclear how much Grinberg initiated the contacts with Patterson and how much they were initiated by Chair McColley. Nevertheless, Patterson's invoice implies that Grinberg initiated at least one February call to him.

MCHCD Board Secretary Sara Spring shows up seventeen times in Patterson's invoices, fourteen of those between March 7 and March 15, 2022. There is some significance here because multiple MCHCD Board members contend that at a February 24th closed session a majority of the board made it clear that all uses of Patterson should cease. From that point on only Board Chair McColley and Board Secretary Spring are mentioned in the Patterson invoices.

Chair McColley and Board Secretary Spring clearly did not abide by the August 26th vote against Patterson's contract. All but one of their post August 26th contacts with Patterson occurred after McColley was elected Board Chair and Spring re-elected Board Secretary on December 13, 2021.

Patterson's December invoice depicts approximately twenty billings for McColley and Spring. The vast majority for McColley.

Patterson billed at $350 per hour for his legal services. He billed about $3,000 to the district for projects performed at McColley's behest in December 2021.

Information regarding Patterson's billing was provided to the AVA by multiple sources in the form of copies of Patterson's invoices sent to MCHCD. The documents break down into invoices for June through December 2021, an invoice for February 2022, and an invoice for the first sixteen days of March 2022. The invoice for January 2022 was not provided. A statement was made to that particular source to the effect that the AVA would have to assume that the January invoice contained no billings charged to Redding, Grinberg, or deVall unless an objection was made to that statement. No objection has been raised.

In February alone, McColley shows up in forty-eight billings within Patterson's invoice for that month. As stated above, at a February 24, 2022 MCHCD closed session it is believed that in one manner or another a majority of the board decided to reaffirm that the district was not employing Patterson. However, McColley and Spring continued to use Patterson's services. These uses amounted to a $6,885 invoice from Patterson covering a two week period from March 3rd to March 16th. Six individual bills relate directly to McColley. More than a half dozen others relate to calls, emails or meetings with Spring. At least three billings from Patterson reflect overlapping contact with the same two board members. In all McColley shows up in over eighty of Patterson's billings during December, February, and March.

Another document obtained by the AVA seems to depict payment activity in February relative to amounts of $15,101.82 and $4,245. The document appears to be an online communication between board chair McColley and a bookkeeping service employee. For each of the two amounts a “fully approved” box is depicted above the dollar figures. In both instances the “fully approved” box is checked. Each apparent payment has a timeline for “collected,” (Feb. 18), “in transit” (also Feb. 18), and “deposited” (Feb. 24). Above the checked “fully approved” boxes is the wording: Law Offices of Jacob R. Patterson.

A corresponding document seems to be an email exchange between MCHCD Board member John Redding and Chair McColley. On February 9 at 6:24 a.m. Redding wrote, “You have authorized our bookkeeper to pay thousands of dollars to Jacob Patterson. Shouldn't this be discussed by the Board first?”

At 7:17 a.m. That same day, McColley responded, “Yes. I agree. I submitted statements to her [the bookkeeper] to start the I-9 process […] no payments have been made or approved by me yet.”

Form I-9 is used to verify the identity and employment authorization of an individual, essentially commencing the legitimization of a person as an employee of an organization.

Redding replied once more to McColley six minutes later on February 9th. “So, wait a minute! Jacob is an employee of the District? When did that happen?”

It would seem that the board as a whole acted foolishly to allow Patterson to take on providing legal services in the summer of 2021 without a contract in place. Similarly, it appears foolhardy of Patterson to commence work for MCHCD without gaining official approval from the board. Section 6148 of the Business and Professional Code states that when attorney fees exceed one thousand dollars, “the contract for services in the case shall be in writing.”

According to what has been represented to the AVA as copies of Patterson's invoices (Law Offices of Jacob R. Patterson letterhead is at the top of each copy), on March 15, 2022, Patterson billed the district $2,345 for one day's efforts. On March 16th, the final billing, the day's total was $2,135.


  1. izzy March 31, 2022

    Looks like Mr. Patterson is running a billing mill.
    Was he “foolhardy” or just an opportunistic kind of shrewd?
    One wonders what all the expensive conversations were about.

  2. George Dorner March 31, 2022

    Well, at least they’re not ignoring nine onboard lawyers to hire an expensive San Francisco firm.

  3. Jeff Fox April 1, 2022

    When I read Malcom MacDonald’s “Doc to Dissolution” article last week mentioning the unnamed lawyer, I joked to my wife that I wouldn’t put it past them to have hired Jacob Patterson… strictly a satirical thought, I entertained myself with a good chuckle. He’s the guy that extorted $22k out of the City of Fort Bragg back in 2018 with the bogus claim that their at-large voting system was a violation of the California Voting Rights Act due to “discrimination” against Hispanic residents, a notion that virtually no Fort Bragg citizen of Hispanic descent agreed with. He’s part of that ilk of lawyers that targets small towns based on obscure laws to extract settlements. The towns almost always settle to avoid litigation they can ill afford, as did Fort Bragg. Of course once they handed him the ransom check he dropped the claim. I guess what I believed to be the stuff of comedy turns out to be true. If the MCHD board has even considered the likes of Patterson, then I have to agree with MacDonald the district is doomed.

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