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A vocal critic of the federal prison health care receiver's plan to construct a medical facility in Stockton is charging that a Sacramento law firm hired to build support for the project violated legal ethics standards by sending the son of Rep. John Garamendi to "pump" him for information about a lawsuit he has filed against the project.

The complaint, filed by Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce CEO Douglass Wilhoit, alleges that a series of conversations he had with John Garamendi Jr. violated the State Bar of California's Rule of Professional Conduct, which prohibits attorneys representing one side of a case to communicate directly or indirectly about the subject of the representation with the opposing party without the consent of that party's lawyer.

The receiver hired Garamendi in November to conduct community outreach for the project as part of a contract with Ochoa and Moore law firm.

Garamendi is not registered as an attorney by the bar and the firm does not represent the receivership in the lawsuit, which the chamber, the city of Stockton and San Joaquin County filed to challenge the accuracy of the project's environmental impact report.

Wilhoit's complaint cites a lunch and subsequent phone conversations about the lawsuit in which Garamendi allegedly did not disclose that he had been hired by the receiver through Ochoa and Moore.

"If Mr. Garamendi had disclosed that he was employed by a law firm that represented the Receiver, I would not have met with him and I certainly would not have discussed the details of the lawsuit with him" Wilhoit wrote in the complaint, adding: "The timing of both Mr. Garamendi's hiring and our impromptu meeting has led me to believe that this was a deliberate move by the Receiver to use his attorneys to improperly communicate with an adverse party"

Ochoa and Moore called the complaint "baseless" and "without merit" in a prepared statement.

"The firm would welcome any investigation into Mr. Wilhoit's specious allegations because we are certain the facts will determine that the firm and its consultants did not violate any ethical rules," according to a statement sent by partner Ralph Ochoa.

A spokeswoman for the state bar said the organization has no jurisdiction to investigate conduct violations by anyone who is not an attorney, so any investigation that stemmed from the complaint would have to be in response to the actions of attorneys working at the firm.

Click here to read the complaint, which was filed Dec. 23.



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