Erik Howell ordered to pay $959,307 for court costs, attorney fees

September 9, 2018

Pismo Beach Councilman Erik Howell


A judge ordered Pismo Beach Councilman Erik Howell and four other members of the California Coastal Commission to pay $959,307 in attorney’s fees and court costs to attorney Cory Briggs and the nonprofit Spotlight on Coastal Corruption for an anti-corruption lawsuit that ended earlier this year. [Cal Coast Times]

Because the judge ordered defendants Howell, Steve Kinsey, Martha McClure, Wendy Mitchell, and Mark Vargas to pay the costs and fees “jointly and severally,” each of them is on the hook for the full $959,307, in addition to the penalty amount each must pay to the Coastal Conservancy Fund.

Even though the state previously offered to pay a $250,000 settlement, Briggs questions the legality of having the state pay fees and costs owed by the defendants.

“The Attorney General said in court papers that the defendants were private individuals sued in their personal capacities,” Briggs said. “The state may not pay a private person’s debts.”

Following the judgment, Briggs sought an order requiring the defendants to pay roughly $31,000 for court costs and nearly $533,000 for attorney fees.

The defendants also asked the court to order Spotlight on Coastal Corruption to pay the Attorney General, whose office represented the defendants for free, in excess of $649,000 because the plaintiff did not prove every violation it alleged and did not obtain the maximum penalties for the defendants’ violations.

San Diego Superior Court Judge Timothy Taylor made the fees ruling Friday, after he previously fined Howell $3,500 over his failure to disclose ex-parte communications as a member of the California Coastal Commission.

In a detailed 12-page ruling, the court rejected the defendants’ request for fees and ordered the defendants to pay Spotlight on Coastal Corruption more than $959,000 to cover court costs and attorney fees. The award included an additional $400,000 in recognition of achievement of litigation goals and the lawsuit’s difficulty and novelty.

The court noted that the lawsuit was in the public interest and resulted in the California Coastal Commission changing disclosure practices.

“The main litigation objective pursued by plaintiff in this action was to shed light on lax ex parte disclosure practices at the Commission,” according to the fee and cost ruling. “This objective was met, with the court finding violations by each of the defendant Commissioners and awarding substantial penalties against each of the defendant Commissioners. Plaintiff’s then-nascent lawsuit was likely an impetus for the 2016 changes in Commission procedures which were discussed in the Statement of Discovery.”

In 2016, Spotlight on Coastal Corruption filed the lawsuit alleging five coastal commissioners illegally hid private meetings with developers and other lobbyists from the public. By law, coastal commissioners are required to disclose ex-parte communications within seven days.

Earlier this year, the court determined that the defendants had committed dozens of violations, and imposed a combined $57,100 in penalties.

“We are grateful that the judge recognizes the extraordinary public service this all-volunteer organization has provided and the tremendous risk we took in doing so,” said Spotlight on Coastal Corruption president Kathryn Burton. “Standing up to unethical public officials is never easy, but it was the right thing to do.”

The defendants have filed an appeal of the underlying judgment. Briggs then filed a cross-appeal because the court looked at violations only within the 12-month period before the lawsuit was filed, while Briggs was pursuing violations committed within a three-year period.

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People of Pismo Beach – the only way to get HOWELL off the CC is to vote him OFF your COUNCIL. No one is running in Pismo Beach so the Council believes all is happy. 

Shake off the clams and wake up !

One has to wonder if just the residents of Pismo Beach had to pay the $959,307 if they would still believe all is good with their council member.


Pismo Beach Councilman Erik Howell is corrupt, and this ruling should be paid by him, not California taxpayers.  

The Central Coast has a surplus of corrupt, progressive politicians, and Erik Howell is just one among many.  Caren Ray, Heidi Harmon, Aaron Gomez, Adam Hill, Bruce Gibson and Carlyn Christianson all have a ‘fast & loose’ connection to public ethics.

Taxpayers need to remove these corrupt politicians from damaging the body politic.


Corruption at it’s finest. Howell, Hill, Dow and Parkinson. The Four Horsemen of dirty politics in SLO County.

How did Adam Hill fail to make your list?

It’s just another example of the vast corruption that runs thru the political arena in SLO County. This seems to be the first case where a substantial consequence was ordered by a court. Although I doubt that it will ever be paid and if it does thru some manipulation the taxpayers will pick the tab up. When is our legal system going to start protecting us from these villians? I still can’t believe that Wallace got away with what he did. It seems to be the norm. There still exists a group of good old boys within the county and if you are associated with them you get a “Pass Jail” card and just go on.

Curious: Mr. Dow, are you going to charge Tenborg and Worrell with conspiracy? After reading the proof that Worrell and Tenborg perjured themselves to win that lawsuit against CCN, we’ve been waiting to hear what’s going to happen to them. My wife and I have been watching this whole story for the last few years and it is sickening. Don’t sweep this one under the rug. 

Isn’t that your buddy, Adam Hill? Seems like all of your buddies are going down for corruption. You must not sleep very well.

I’ll bet that the taxpayers will end up paying for everything, in the end. It will go several more rounds through the court system but we’ll get stuck with the bills before it’s all finished.

Taxpayers PROBABLY SHOULD PAY, at least in part. It’s their Coastal Commission, and their representatives on the Commission. Just as businesses pay for employee malfeasances, taxpayers should pay when their “employees” break the law.

Being Ca and furthermore the CC Im sure there are plenty who just adored how they performed. On the other hand when one appoints a public figure to power you’d think, or at least hope, they are honest and will perform their duties within the law. Tally up the wasted tax funds from lawsuits,fines, misappropriated funds and pay outs between the Sheriffs dept, OCSD, SSLOCSD, Cambria csd, and Waste management just to name a few in the last 10 years,its staggering. The level of unprofessionalism in SLO county, the corruption and back handed dealing is second to none. 

Aren’t the Coastal Commissioners appointed, not elected? Not sure how the voters should be held responsible for appointed persons who break the law.

Actually it is not my Coastal Commission. I voted for Prop 9 years ago because I wanted our coast protected and I wanted to avoid a “Marina Del Ray” from Del Norte to San Diego. Nowhere in Prop 9 was there a mention of a Coastal Commission – a body of political approintees with unlimited power absent of any accountability. The Coastal commission is a body of unelected appointees. And Kevin, if some employee is found guilty of theft from a business that business will not feel obliged to pay for that employee’s malfeasance.

Kevin, old buddy! You been on a bender or something? You seem to be loosing the confidence of the people. Sup? 

One of the readers here a couple months ago pointed out that these non elected non Govt agencys are just that, non elected and non govermental, we really should tell the CC to go take a hike right along with the sierra club.