Neither A Significant Public Right Vindicated Nor Significant Benefit Conferred.
Not every vindication of a statutory right is worthy of private attorney general fees under CCP section 1021.5. Contra Costa County Deputy District Attorneys’ Assn. v. County of Contra Costa, Human Resources Dept., Case No. A140669 (1st Dist., Div. 3 Aug. 21, 2015) (unpublished) illustrates this principle in the 1021.5 area.
There, the Deputy DA Association did obtain a writ of mandate where the County hired a deputy district attorney off an expired employment list in violation of Personnel Management Regulation 608, but did not obtain broader relief such as compelling the County to follow its PMRs. The lower court subsequently denied the Association’s request for an award of 1021.5 fees.
The appellate court affirmed. It first determined that the abuse of discretion review standard applied, because the matter involved a factual determination of whether there was evidence of a widespread practice within county employment of extending employment lists in violation of the PMRs, something which the lower found did not exist. With this important standard of review in play, the reviewing court could find no systematic County violation of the PMRs given the violation only involved one deputy district attorney hiring. The appellate court also observed that not every statutory violation rises to the level of public importance, with trial judges required to realistically assess the significance of the right in relationship to the achievement of fundamental legislative goals. Beyond that, no significant benefit was conferred on a large class of persons given that the issuance of the writ for one hiring violation was not likely to significantly affect the County’s future hiring decisions. “Had the legislature intended to permit recovery of attorney fees in every case brought by a private entity or individual to compel a public entity’s compliance with a particular regulation or rule, we believe the legislature would have drafted section 1021.5 to state as much.” (Slip Op., at p. 10.)