Back when the fight to gather signatures for a ballot referendum on the landswap for the proposed Veteran’s cemetery, Mission Viejo’s Bill Cook showed up regularly to harass signature gatherers — both volunteers and paid canvassers.
He made a mistake in going after Sharona Toranto, who is a DPOC Central Committee member. She was soliciting signatures on Oct. 29, 2017, in front of a Trader Joe’s in Irvine and handing out informational flyers regarding a City ballot measure for a proposed Veterans Cemetery landswap. The flyers contained the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) insignia that was part of a stock photo to show a Veteran and information regarding the cemetery.
According to Ms. Toranto, and supported by Mr. Cook’s Facebook post, he took the flyers away from her for a period of time. In a later interview with Irvine Police Department Detective Michael Moore, Mr. Cook admitted to taking the flyers and stated that it was improper and misleading for Ms. Toranto to use the VFW logo on her flyers. At issue is interference with Ms. Toranto’s First Amendment rights.
Bill Cook was found to be the first person fined $100 for violating Irvine’s Free Speech Ordinance. He appealed the ruling that was issued on February 28, 2018. Cook submitted a written request for a hearing to appeal the citation, but did not appear at the administrative hearing. The hearing officer was from a company called DataTicker, which is a third party neutral administrator. The city was represented by the law firm of Rutan & Tucker.
Cook then asked to reschedule the hearing. The city’s lawyers prepared for the second hearing which never happened because Cook withdrew, making him liable for paying the fine (the city did not confirm if the fine was ever paid). But there was a significant cost for legal fees for the city for this entire issue. The city tells TheLiberalOC it cost Irvine Taxpayers $14,583.50 in legal fees that Cook is not liable for reimbursement.
As the city’s new budget is imposing fees for non-profits moving forward, how many hours of city facilities use could those taxpayer dollars be spent instead of going to lawyers?