In the Woody’s Group, Inc. v. City of Newport Beach, the court invalidated a planning decision because a councilmember appealed the grant of permit of the city council and convinced his fellow councilmembers to deny the permit. In neither of these cases did the councilmember have a financial interest such that conflicts of interest laws were violated. In both cases, the councilmember was presumably doing what councilmembers are supposed to do: represent their constituents. The courts both decided to overturn the administrative decision because decision makers were not “neutral and unbiased” when acting in an adjudicatory capacity. The “biased” councilmember would have had to recuse himself from participating in the process to save the decision.
By and large, local agencies are not involved in adjudicatory proceedings. This gives us another reason to be especially vigilant. When in doubt, we should be contacted.
By Wayne Lemieux