Over the past few months, South Pasadena City Attorney Teresa L. Highsmith has been conspicuously absent from the City Council’s regular meetings. Her last appearance was May 5, and in each of the five council meetings since then Andrew Jared, an attorney at Highsmith’s law firm, has served in her stead. Since the beginning of the year, Highsmith has been present for less than half of the Council’s regular meetings.
The City has made no announcements about Highsmith’s status. Asked about it after last week’s city council meeting, Mr. Jared, who like Highsmith works out of CHW’s Pasadena office, offered no meaningful response.
Highsmith did not respond to a request for comment, but in a statement responding to questions about the city attorney’s status, South Pasadena city manager Arminé Chaparyan wrote, “Due to the risks from the COVID-19 virus and its variants regardless of vaccination status, Ms. Highsmith does not attend in person public meetings at this time.”
Highsmith is a partner and shareholder in the law firm Colantuono, Highsmith & Whatley, which specializes in California municipal law. Its website says its 32 attorneys serve as general counsel, city, or town attorney to 11 California cities, and over two dozen other special districts and successor agencies, and as special counsel to dozens more.
Under its contract with the city, CHW must attend all City Council and Planning Commission meetings, and other meetings as directed. Highsmith is the “designated” city attorney, while Holly O. Whatley is the assistant city attorney. Jared is not mentioned in the contract or its amendments, but it does provide that “from time to time” other CHW attorneys may assist Highsmith.
Highsmith’s pattern of absence is mirrored in other jurisdictions where she reportedly serves. According to a profile on the firm’s website, Highsmith is the city attorney for Barstow and general counsel at Eco Rapid Transit, a joint action agency looking to develop a 19.4 mile transit line between Los Angeles and Artesia; and the South East Los Angeles County Work Force Investment Board (SELACO), which provides services to employers and links people to job training opportunities.
But in Barstow, Highsmith hasn’t made an appearance since last October, shortly before Matthew T. Summers, another CHW colleague, was named city attorney there.
In addition, at its July 14 meeting, the Eco Rapid Transit Board also replaced Highsmith with Summers, who’d been assistant city counsel. Eco Rapid Transit executive director Michael Kodam said CHW initiated the transition to Summers, as he has been “moving up” at CHW. Over the past few months Summers had been taking on more of the work and he is, Kodam noted, younger than Highsmith, who was admitted to the California bar in 1991. He said Highsmith would remain the Board’s assistant city attorney and that the agency is very satisfied with CHW’s work.
At SELACO, public documents indicate Highsmith was still serving as legal counsel there as of last May.
CHW has served as South Pasadena’s legal counsel since being hired under former Mayor Marina Khubesrian in July 2014. Shortly before that, then Council Member Diana Mahmud told a state agency that the city’s Deputy City Attorney had provided “legally incorrect” advice to the city’s Planning Commission.
The city currently pays CHW a monthly retainer of $10,000 per month, plus hourly rates for special projects. Highsmith gets $245/hour.