Meghann Cuniff

Meghann Cuniff is a veteran reporter who's covered everything from the school board in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, to the cross-country judicial saga of Southern California attorney Michael Avenatti. She is an editor and reporter for and also works as a freelancer in California, specializing in legal affairs but also skilled at breaking news, crime and government coverage as well as long-form watchdogging and narratives.

Postal mail: P.O. Box 5853, San Clemente, CA, 92674

Jury sides with park ranger in dispute over couple's serving meals to homeless residents at O.C. beach

As Kathy Lemly tells it, the beachside confrontation that led her and her husband, Don Lemly, to the federal courthouse in Santa Ana this month began with an ominous comment from a state park ranger. “I heard someone say, ‘You’re not going to feed these people, are you?’” she recalled on the witness stand. “I turned to my husband and said, ‘I think we can expect trouble today.’”

Amid the Fight Over Franklin Canyon, Mohamed Hadid Would Just Like a Little Gratitude

For Mohamed Hadid, the hikers who traverse his Franklin Canyon property aren’t necessarily a problem, per se. But amid a very public campaign against the millionaire developer—called Hillsides Against Hadid—Hadid says he can’t help but view them as just a little bit ungrateful. “I’m happy to see them enjoying my property, but don’t say I can’t develop it. I have my rights like any other rights in the U.S.” Hadid says. “It’s never been a public easement.”

Homeless man who died in San Clemente chronicled troubles in official court filing

About seven years into his life without housing, longtime San Clemente resident Steven Riley described his plight in an official court declaration. “I use buildings and bushes to protect myself from the sun, rain, wind or other weather,” the then-72-year-old man wrote. “Due to my age and health, I cannot stay outside all day. But I can only afford a motel a few nights per month.”

Orange County federal judge dismisses criminal cases over lack of jury trials

On what would be the first of three occasions in three days, U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney looked into his computer screen one recent January morning and apologized to a criminal defendant for the courthouse’s pandemic-related prohibition on in-person hearings. Then he repeated a move that had already drawn sharp objection from federal prosecutors: He announced the dismissal of all charges, part of a constitutional stance he said has left him feeling isolated and frustrated.

Disgraced Attorney Michael Avenatti's Quiet 2020 Is About to Give Way to a Wild 2021

After a spectacular 15-minutes-of-fame crash and burn that included serious talk of a U.S. presidential bid, Los Angeles lawyer and three-time convicted felon Michael Avenatti enjoyed a quiet 2020 confined to a friend’s Venice home on a court-ordered COVID release from jail. But while he’s secured about a dozen continuances in his three cross-county criminal cases, Avenatti couldn’t avoid a sanction issued December 23 in an Orange County civil case: A judge fined him $960 for failing to participate in an evidentiary proceeding in a longstanding lawsuit over $5.4 million Avenatti’s former co-counsel claims he stole. Avenatti’s former business partners, attorneys and wives also are facing ongoing court action for their dealings with him, and each could end up facing financial consequences much heftier than the $960 sanction lodged against Avenatti.

Amid an increasing homeless population, Santa Ana fights with Orange County over jail releases

Aided by snacks, an iPhone and a friend with a taxi, Vaskin Koshkerian works to be the first stop for newly released jail inmates in Orange County. He’s parked his RV outside the Central Jail Complex most nights a week for several years, helping thousands of people released onto the streets of Santa Ana. Some need only a quick call to a roommate or a cup of coffee; others have nothing but jail clothes and no way to get back to the park where they usually sleep.

An eviction crisis is coming, housing lawyers warn

Nearly six months into a pandemic that’s upended American society, a San Diego property owner cut a deal with a tenant: Take $10,000 and get out. A 60-day eviction notice expired while the courts were closed, and the city’s new emergency restrictions gave the tenant significant leverage: His landlord couldn’t secure a court summons until Sept. 30 at the earliest, and in the meantime, the renter wasn’t legally required to pay him anything. The landlord’s lawyer, Rachael Callahan, told him the ke

In shutdown, national parks transform into Wild West — heavily populated and barely supervised

“Once those port-a-potties fill up, there’s no amount of cleaning that will save them,” said Sabra Purdy, who along with her husband, Seth, owns the rock-climbing guide service Cliffhanger Guides in the town of Joshua Tree. “At that point, I think I’m going to have to tap out.” The partial government shutdown, triggered by a dispute between Pr esident Trump and Congress over funding for a U.S.-Mexico border wall, is now well into its second week, with no resolution in sight. Democrats, who take

Former Buchalter lawyer would like an apology

A former Buchalter APC shareholder at the center of a $200 million fraud and negligent hiring lawsuit said he believes he did nothing wrong and the plaintiff family owes him an apology, according to video depositions played for jurors on Wednesday. J. Wayne Allen acknowledged lending himself money from the family’s business that he didn’t repay, but he said the loans were part of a larger financial plan that worked as intended. “Sure, I wish those were paid, but by the same token, events occurred that inhibited my ability to pay those back. I wish those hadn’t happened either, right?” Allen said. “I did what I felt was the right thing to do for my client along the way.”

Rainmaker ties shielded lawyer, Buchalter CFO testifies

A former Buchalter APC shareholder at the center of a fraud and negligent hiring trial was so close to a key attorney in the firm’s Orange County office that its top executive disregarded concerns about suspicious billing practices, a firm executive testified Monday. Orange County Superior Court jurors considering the multimillion dollar claims against the firm saw emails between former Buchalter CEO Rick Cohen, a current shareholder, and Chief Financial Officer Pamela K. Webster, who testified that then-shareholder J. Wayne Allen’s relationship with shareholder Martin P. “Marty” Florman influenced Cohen’s response.

Vacations, groceries, hotels: Supervisor Todd Spitzer’s spending from obscure fund raises questions

When Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer and his wife traveled to Maui seven years ago, political donors paid for the nearly $9,000 trip through a fundraising account rarely used in California politics. It was the first of several trips covered by those campaign donations, and it began years of unprecedented spending from a war chest that’s paid for $340,000 in travel, groceries, restaurant meals, hotels, office and retail store purchases, a security system and donations to politicians, cause

Boat ban could jeopardize Irvine Lake’s fishing, finances

Neither man knew how to swim and neither wore a life jacket. So when their overloaded boat began to sink on Irvine Lake four summers ago, they died in one of Orange County’s most tragically common ways: drowning. But the June 2012 deaths of Juan Flores and Thomas Rivera were far from ordinary. Their deaths prompted a court battle that ended this year with a $1.5 million settlement brokered by lawyers for the men’s families and lawyers for the Orange County water district that controls one of th

Supervisors seek less oversight of $60-per-hour assistant jobs

A move by newly elected Orange County officials to gain lucrative, taxpayer-funded government jobs for their offices has prompted county leaders to examine a longstanding hiring process that some fear allows political cronies undeserved access to high-paying positions. They’re called executive assistants, and they can be paid upward of $60 an hour. And now, despite an attempt by some county leaders to better monitor who can be hired, even fewer restrictions apply: the Board of Supervisors recen

County officials battle over audit control

The tipster who called Orange County’s fraud hotline didn’t know the name of the man who paid for lunch with a high-ranking county official, but she recognized him as a consultant who did business with county officials. “I am aware of the law about not taking anything more than a cup of coffee, and this was certainly more than that,” said the woman who didn’t leave her name on the recorded message. “Shouldn’t our county executives lead with actions as our role models?” But it turned out it was
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