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SAN JOSE � City Attorney J. Richard “Rick” Doyle is known in the corridors of City Hall as a smart and politically savvy lawyer. He may need both traits if he hopes to emerge unscathed from a controversy over a contract with Cisco Systems Inc. that has engulfed San Jose’s government, leading to the resignation of one public official and the demotion of two more. The city and the Santa Clara County DA’s office are looking into the matter. Doyle is expected to be interviewed as part of both investigations. Whether anyone else takes the fall remains to be seen. But the scandal has highlighted problems in the relationship between San Jose’s municipal lawyers and their clients, fueling talk that the office needs greater independence from city staff. On one hand, Doyle seems to have given an unusual amount of deference to City Hall staff. And on the other, a history of animosity between deputies in the city attorney’s office and other City Hall departments may have caused some red flags to be overlooked. San Jose awarded Cisco an $8 million contract earlier this year to provide a communications network for a new city hall. But news reports later alleged that the deal was never properly vetted and that several city employees favored Cisco from the beginning. The city’s legal staff was directly involved in the case almost from the beginning. According to the San Jose Mercury News, Brian Doyle, a senior deputy city attorney, argued against the deal in the year before the scandal broke. Brian Doyle, who is not related to his boss, even wrote a memo outlining multiple legal problems, saying the deal was rife with conflicts and hadn’t gone through routine bidding procedures. But several City Council members say they didn’t hear any of those concerns until August � well after the deal was set to proceed. Rick Doyle has said publicly that he didn’t raise his senior deputy’s concerns with the council because he was told by city staff that the deal was legitimate. That has led to criticism that the city attorney was derelict in his duties. “If an attorney did that in the private sector, there is a good chance he would be calling his insurance carrier,” said City Councilman David Cortese, who is also an attorney with van Keulen & van Keulen in Morgan Hill. “When there is a seven-figure consequence to your client as a result of poor communication between the attorney and client, there’s got to be some accountability on the part of the attorney.” The controversy has fueled talk among City Council members � three of whom are lawyers � that the city charter should be reworked to make the office more independent from the city, free from political pressures and thus better able to pinpoint potential legal problems in city deals. The city attorney is one of five positions appointed by the City Council. Cortese said the council could intervene, “if the city attorneys threw their hands up and said they were intimidated. Then it might be time to consider a change.” Other council members shared similar concerns. “What we’re looking at is what happened to Brian’s memo. � Where did it go, and why wasn’t there any discussion about it?” said Linda LeZotte, a member of the City Council, as well as a solo estate planning and small business lawyer. “I didn’t know of Brian’s concerns until this broke open,” she said. “The idea that one of the department heads says, �I can see Brian’s advice, but I don’t have to do anything with it,’ concerns me.” But LeZotte said she was unsure that an independent city attorney was the right answer, adding that other policy options should be explored first. “This needs to come to the attention of the people who ultimately have to answer to the taxpayers.” Councilman Charles “Chuck” Reed, another practicing attorney, said an independent office isn’t the answer. Rather, he said, “The city attorney’s office needs to have a clear understanding that the council is their client.” “They have the authority and the obligation to take things up the chain of command,” said Reed, who practices law with San Jose’s Reed & Roth. “They are supposed to work for me.” But Rick Doyle has his defenders. Practicing law in City Hall is far from an easy task, said Joan Gallo, Doyle’s predecessor in the city attorney’s office. “It’s a difficult job,” said Gallo, now a land use lawyer with Hopkins & Carley in San Jose. “You are practicing in a public and political arena. And you are dealing with very complex issues.” TENSE RELATIONSHIPS Several City Hall insiders said there is frequent tension between the city attorney’s office and the other San Jose government branches � including City Manager Del Borgsdorf’s office and the council. Borgsdorf has also come under criticism for the deal. Cortese was not surprised by the charges. “There is a dysfunction between the city manager’s office and the city attorney’s office � and there seems to be a communication breakdown [within] the city attorney’s office on this matter as well,” he said. Both Doyles declined to be interviewed, citing the ongoing investigation. Asked to describe his experiences, Rick Doyle said: “The experiences aren’t over. I’m going to be interviewed by the district attorney and the independent investigator.” Insiders described Brian Doyle as “extremely confident,” with a hard-hitting style. But that may have contributed to the problems with the Cisco contract, according to one former City Hall employee who remains familiar with City Hall dealings. Some midlevel city attorneys are known for questioning every proposal that crosses their desks, the former employee said. “A lot of times staff lawyers are seen as obstructionists and extremely conservative. It dilutes their influence when they throw up 30 roadblocks [to a project]. “If a front-line city attorney was saying they believe it may break the law, well � they do that on every issue, so it loses its impact.” Another City Hall veteran said tensions between deputy lawyers and other City Hall departments have always existed, but have been exacerbated by the Cisco scandal. “It’s no different from a large corporation that has battles with their legal department. The reality in San Jose is that you have lawyers on the council second-guessing their advice,” the former employee said. The former employee added that some politicians were being unduly harsh on Rick Doyle, adding that attorneys generally expect city employees to be straightforward. “You operate under the assumption that the department has been telling you the truth. They are not the police of the staff. � They are attorneys for the staff and the City Council.” Councilwoman LeZotte, for one, remains unconvinced. “If there was a legal opinion and a red flag raised � that we should know about,” she said. OPEN CHANNELS To prevent a similar debacle, some politicians want to see better communication between the city attorney’s office and their clients. “I know that one lawyer knew the staff was making a bad judgment � and I know I didn’t hear about it,” Reed said. Donald Polden, an employment law expert and dean of Santa Clara University School of Law, added that it’s critically important for municipal lawyers to remember that they represent the people and elected officials � not just bureaucrats. And sometimes, he said, a deputy attorney should take his objections public. There has been “tremendous discussion about when lawyers should bypass their superiors and report their concerns to other authorities,” Polden said. The American Bar Association has been studying when lawyers should be expected to do just that. But Polden added that the toughest thing for a lawyer in this situation to deal with is possible retribution. “On one hand, you have an ethical obligation to tell the truth, and on the other hand, you have your job,” he said. CONSEQUENCES? Both investigations in the case are ongoing and there could be further fallout from the scandal. In the meantime, Rick Doyle may be in for some rough times with his employers: He faces a routine evaluation in the next few months and the Cisco case will inevitably come up. Councilman Cortese did not wish to discuss the evaluation, except to say that it would be a candid discussion. “It takes enough council members that have concerns to make a matter really stick,” Cortese said. The city attorney may be helped by the fact that he is well liked and has a strong record with the City Council. “Rick has done a great job here the last three-and-a-half years, and if he made a mistake, that would be part of the review process. But that wouldn’t wipe out his whole record,” Councilman Reed said. “He is a very smart attorney, but we’re going to have to look at all that transpired.”

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