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Ron Kaye: Fighting against a rigged game

January 07, 2012

If the government’s up to something strange in your neighborhood and you think you have a case, who you gonna call?

You’re gonna call Silverstein, of course.

That’s what George Brokate, a 73-year-old former Marine captain and Vietnam veteran, did when he was faced with plans by the city of Monrovia and the Gold Line Construction Authority to seize his property under eminent domain for the maintenance yard for the light-rail extension to Azusa.

Pasadena attorney Robert Silverstein, one of the few public interest lawyers in the Los Angeles region, took up the challenge as he has dozens of times over the last 15 years to apply his expertise on environmental law, property rights, public records disclosure, open meetings and other areas to challenge government agencies on behalf of neighborhood, community, historical preservation groups and property owners like Brokate.

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What followed in the last two years in Brokate’s case was a flurry of lawsuits that tore into the $750-million project and the process behind it, threatening to delay the Gold Line extension indefinitely.

“I really feel fortunate I get to represent the little guy, the little guy who’s being ground down by the system,” Silverstein said. “Every case is a David vs. Goliath fight and I get to make real differences in people’s lives. I am a firm believer in eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. You have to fight the government when it’s wrong and violates its own laws.”

Back in October, Silverstein and co-counsel Christopher Sutton, another highly successful public interest lawyer from Pasadena, filed lawsuits over the role of the Monrovia Community Redevelopment Agency in the process, since it faced dissolution under state law, and over how the design-build contract was awarded — actions that did not sit well with then-Monrovia-City-Manager Scott Ochoa, who took over from Jim Starbird as Glendale city manager last week.

In an interview with Monrovia Patch, Ochoa dismissed the allegations then as “specious at best,” and an “obstructionist” tactic to shake down Gold Line officials for more money.

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