The Investigation

The Lawsuits

I did not want to represent myself in my lawsuits. It is a difficult thing to do successfully. So, I did some research on 10 California lawyers who I believed had experience in CPRA litigation. I sent them an email outlining the issues and explaining that I wanted to associate with local counsel to assist me. When I was in private practice, I used to do that from time to time as a courtesy to my fellow out-of-state lawyers. I only billed for out-of-pocket expenses. The agreement was usually that they would do most of the work and I would ensure things were shepherded through the court procedurally. Most of the time, my associates or paralegals would handle the filings.

I received one response. One out of ten! Of course, I was very disappointed by the lack of respect and courtesy. In fact, I was shocked. The attorney who did respond practiced law in a city 350 miles from Los Angeles, so it was not very practical for her to help me. But she did give me some good suggestions, and I appreciated her help. After that, I had my assistant contact two more lawyers. One wanted $450 per hour with a $5,000 retainer, and the other wanted $500 per hour and a $10,000 retainer. They also did not want my assistance, even though I had more public records act trial experience than they did. So, I decided to do it myself. Frankly, I believed I could present an effective case without local counsel.


From the beginning, I was baffled by the legal maneuvers over representation by Los Angeles County Counsel. After filing suit, I had been communicating with the Office of County Counsel over service of process on the respondents—the sheriff and coroner.

County Counsel was insisting I spend several hundred dollars to serve the county in person as required under the Code of Civil Procedure. A lawful option existed where respondents could accept service by registered mail or County Counsel could accept service on behalf of the county.

The insistence on my engaging in an expensive and captious exercise made my first encounter with county representatives most unpleasant. Personal service was a complete waste of time and money—my time and money. By being unreasonably disagreeable, it forced me to hire professional process servers to perform the task.

County Counsel has its offices in the Late Moderne designed, “lavishly appointed” Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration in the Civic Center district of downtown Los Angeles. According to County Counsel’s website at the time, the deputy attorneys are government employees paid by the taxpayers of Los Angeles County to represent “the Board of Supervisors, the County and its departments/agencies on legal issues and in litigation involving complex issues of public agency and civil law.”

Mary Wickham, County Counsel during my lawsuits, says her office “is one of the largest municipal civil law offices in the country, with more than 300 attorneys and 500 employees.” (It now has 600 employees.) Wickham also boasts, “We have consistently enjoyed the reputation of being among the finest public law offices.”

Predictably, this “law office” costs a considerable amount of money to operate. According to the 2019-2020 Annual Litigation Cost Report prepared by the County Counsel “Litigation Cost Manager,” Los Angeles County taxpayers shelled out $151,900,000 for “litigation expenses” during the fiscal year. That was nearly eight times the recommended budget to “provide for the development and preservation of affordable housing” in Los Angeles County for the same fiscal year.

In my case, instead of doing its job, County Counsel hired a private law firm to defend the case. I could not understand why one of the “finest public law offices” with “300 attorneys” would feel the need to spend taxpayers’ money to defend the mighty forces of Los Angeles County against a hard-of-hearing, retired Arkansas trial lawyer with one part-time assistant. It continues to be a mystery to me, because when the dust settled, it cost the taxpaying citizens of Los Angeles County more than $300,000 for the private lawyers in the first lawsuits.

That’s nearly three times what the average Los Angeles County street lawyer makes in a year. And for what? The private lawyers did nothing but frustrate my efforts to get what I was legally entitled to. So, what was the county hiding? I was not looking for a case to litigate. All I wanted was for them to treat me like the writers who came before me. But they arrogantly offered this Arkansan nothing and, thereafter, I prevailed against both the sheriff and the coroner.

Because of space limitations and relevancy to the overall subject matter of my book, I decided to provide those who are interested with materials relating to my investigation of Natalie’s case, including the lawsuits I was forced to file in California when the authorities there attempted to block my access to important documents and materials. I hope this will give you some idea of the efforts I made to properly investigate Natalie’s death. Clicking on the icons listed below will conveniently and automatically download the pdf.