Risner won’t be Vallejo’s next permanent city attorney

by John Glidden | Aug. 26, 2020

As the city of Vallejo searches for its next city attorney, one thing is certain, Randy Risner won’t be filling the position.

Vallejo Mayor Bob Sampayan made the announcement through a message posted to the city’s social media pages on AUg. 24 that after interviewing four candidates the city “had to pass on a handful of talented individuals,” including Risner.

“The decision to move forward with a smaller group of candidates was a difficult decision to make, but I am confident the candidate selected will serve the people of Vallejo well,” Sampayan wrote in his message.

Originally hired in 2018 to serve as the Vallejo’s chief assistant city attorney, or number two in the city attorney’s office, Risner was appointed as interim city attorney during the January 28 city council meeting.

Risner replaced Claudia Quintana, who announced her retirement months prior to his appointment. Quintana’s employment contract required her to give the city a six month notice before officially retiring. She left the city in April.

Risner will move back to the chief assistant city attorney position once a new city attorney is hired.

Reached for comment, Risner said on Aug. 27 that he was “disappointed” but that he supports the decision made by the council.

“I look forward to assisting the new City Attorney and continuing to address the many complex legal issues the City faces. It is my sincere hope that I can positively contribute to a better future for Vallejo,” Rinser said in a statement released by the city. “At this point, I do not have any intention of leaving the City, and I look forward to resuming my duties as Chief Assistant City Attorney.”

Risner, however, announced via his LinkedIn page that he is “open to work” for senior attorney positions in the San Francisco Bay Area. He also spoke on the platform about returning to private practice as he is “more effective in that role.”

A screenshot of interim City Attorney Randy Risner’s LinkedIn page. (John Glidden)

Interim City Attorney Randy Risner posted in messages on LinkedIn that he interested in getting back into private practice. (Courtesy @KAbergast on Twitter)

From the start, Risner has faced criticism about his ability to serve as the city’s top lawyer.

During that same January meeting, the council defended Risner after the independent newsroom Open Vallejo published a scathing report about a sanction Risner received from a federal bankruptcy court in 2011.

The report also raised questions about Risner’s previous employment history. While serving as city attorney for central valley and southern California cities, Risner made several “missteps” which forced him to leave those positions, according to the same report.

According to the Vallejo Times-Herald, Councilwoman Rozzana Verder-Aliga called Open Vallejo’s article “fake news” and said the council and city officials won’t be bullied.

“I, and this council, will not tolerate your harassment, your intimidation, and your bullying of our staff, as well as my fellow councilmembers,” Verder-Aliga said directly to Open Vallejo, the Times-Herald reported.

Risner was fined $200 in April 2011 after a federal bankruptcy judge determined Risner committed “a fraud on the court” while he was representing a couple seeking to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

The court stated that the couple gave Risner $975 from the couple, believing the $299 court filing fee was included in that payment. Risner also asked the couple to sign an application allowing the court fee to be paid in installments with Risner paying $75 for first installment.

The court noted the rest of the installment payments were not made and it wasn’t until months later when the court threatened to close the case that Risner paid the remaining fees.

Prior to a second round of interviews with the city council, unknown persons plastered signs throughout the downtown and waterfront areas, calling for the council not to select Risner for the permanent city attorney position. (John Glidden)

Risner has come under fire for his decision to seek a gag order and venue change in the civil lawsuit filed by the family of Sean Monterrosa, the 22-year-old San Francisco man shot and killed by a Vallejo police officer outside Walgreens on June 2.

“The City will seek a fair trial with an uncompromised jury, and that may not be possible in the Bay Area or the Sacramento area, given the extensive negative media coverage on this case. After the City is served with the official complaint, we intend to seek a change of venue outside of the Bay Area (and Sacramento),” Risner’s office told KGO 7 news, which first reported his requests. “The jury pool in the local and surrounding areas has been debased by inflammatory and sensationalized media statements given by the plaintiff’s attorneys in this case. We intend to seek a protective order preventing these attorneys or any affiliated parties from speaking to the media about the case. This will ensure fairness and allow the judicial process to play out in a non-partisan fashion, as it was designed.”

The community organization, Vessels of Vallejo, issued a statement praising the council’s decision to pass on Risner.

“Randy Risner should never have been named Interim City Attorney nor should he have been in the running for the permanent position,” according to Shirley Jordan, Vee Thomas, and Donald Yee on behalf of Vessels of Vallejo. “His issues working as City Attorney for other cities, being sanctioned for fraud, having to declare bankruptcy partially due to legal malpractice claims, and his deplorable decisions pertaining to the Monterrosa case all should have eliminated him from contention.”

The organization said it is now turning its attention to ousting Vallejo City Manager Greg Nyhoff. Vessels of Vallejo started a petition calling for the firing of Nyhoff, which has received over 2,500 signatures as of Aug. 28.

They point to Nyhoff’s failure to do anything about a Vallejo police badge bending scandal, the purchase of a new police building on the city’s waterfront, and presenting a city budget which allocates 46 percent of its total to the police department as reasons for his immediately firing.

Prior to the council’s decision on the city attorney’s position, Vessels of Vallejo circulated a similar petition about Risner, which received more than 1,200 signatures.

According to the group’s Facebook page, Vessels of Vallejo was created to “bring an end to the oppressive system that relies on the policing and the criminalization of disadvantaged people, specifically those of the black and brown community.”

Prior to a second round of interviews with the city council, unknown persons plastered signs throughout the downtown and waterfront areas, calling for the council not to select Risner for the permanent city attorney position due to his decision to seek a venue change and gag order in the Monterrosa lawsuit.

The Vallejo City Council conducted a first round of interviews on July 30 as several members of the public, selected by the council, interviewed the city attorney candidates separately from the council.

According to Vallejo Mayor Bob Sampayan’s office, those community members included Mina Diaz, community advocate and city council candidate; Bryan Harris, pastor, Emmanuel Temple Apostolic Church of Vallejo; Ruthe Ashley; Shawna Gilroy, 2020 board chair, Vallejo Chamber of Commerce; and Brien Farrell, former Santa Rosa city attorney.

Vallejo agreed to give the Rocklin-based Ralph Andersen & Associates up to $35,000 to conduct the search up to $35,000. The firm anticipated the actual cost would be closer to $28,500. The firm helped the city locate, and eventually hire, Vallejo Police Chief Shawny Williams.

Editor’s note: This article was updated on Aug. 27 to include a statement from interim City Attorney Randy Risner, and a screenshot of Risner’s LinkedIn page. It was also updated on Aug. 28 to include comments from Vessels of Vallejo.

Published by John Glidden

John Glidden is a freelance journalist reporting on the city of Vallejo. The native Vallejoan also covers the local school district, Vallejo elections, and public safety.

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