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— The intrigue -- not to mention the cost -- surrounding the ongoing San Diego city audit and pension-fund scandal continues to grow. The Texas law firm of Susman Godfrey, L.L.P., hired to help sort out the mess, has run up an initial tab of $250,000, which is almost sure to burgeon. According to its recent contract with the city, the firm's name partner, Stephen Susman, travels in style: "Mr. Susman owns his own aircraft. When he flies on it for your case, unless you have agreed otherwise, he will only charge you first-class airfare for himself and any other professionals from the firm who accompany him." But that's just the beginning. The roster of other taxpayer-paid consultants helping to investigate the yet-to-be specified wrongdoing has expanded to include an outfit from Gresham, Oregon, called Breakwater Security Associates, which joined the case last month to "provide computer forensic-consulting services" for the in-house investigation. The company's job is trying to recover data somehow erased from the hard drives of city computers. The tab for that gig is $325 an hour, or a total of $50,000, which covers development of "specialized software tools" to get to the bottom of the matter. The contract says, "Additional sums may be necessary." Another $150,000 has been paid to Lexis-Nexis Applied Discovery for "electronic discovery services to assist in additional investigation towards completion of the audit." As with Breakwater, more money may be needed before the job is finished. Meanwhile, a letter to the city from Luce, Forward lawyer Charlie Bird spells out what his firm has been doing for one of the city's highest-ranking and best-paid bureaucrats. "By letter agreement of June 9, 2004, we undertook to counsel Deputy City Manager Bruce Herring in connection with two federal agencies' inquiries into certain disclosure practices of the City." But for some reason, even though taxpayers are picking up the tab, Herring's superiors, including members of the city council (not to mention the public) are being kept in the dark about exactly what sort of advice Bird is providing. "We understand that in performing our services in the Herring matter, we should report directly to Mr. Herring, who is our client and the holder of the attorney-client privilege in that engagement."

Showbiz Peace Democratic ex-state senator Steve Peace, erstwhile B-movie producer and father of the state's ultimately disastrous utility "reforms" of the 1990s, is riding high again as political guru for the San Diego County airport authority and the campaign of incoming assemblywoman Lori Saldaña. Some insiders say he's even become a secret advisor to those who want to see Donna Frye beat Dick Murphy for mayor. The other night Peace and wife Cheryl were sighted walking in the Gaslamp with his old Chula Vista pal and convicted ex-port commissioner David Malcolm and spouse Annie, now ensconced in a tony downtown condo. A few days later, the couples were seen enjoying dinner at the nearby Athens Market. But actor George Clooney, on the road to promote his new movie Oceans Twelve, told CNN that he wasn't a fan of one Peace-produced movie in which Clooney had a starring role back in 1988. "There are some I'd like to take back," he told the network. "Return of the Killer Tomatoes; I'd like to have it back." ... Jack White, known for years as the kindly restaurant reviewer on KGTV ("The fried clams were especially delectable, and the portions were ample"), has long since retired and discovered the good life pitching mail-order funeral insurance on cable TV. The "Silver Care plan," an earnest-looking White tells viewers, is "something we'll all someday need" to cover "final expenses."

Legal entanglements Supporters of San Diego city councilwoman Donna Frye's bid to overturn the county registrar of voters' opinion that Dick Murphy should be mayor kicks into high gear in the new year with the "5547 Vote March" from Horton Plaza on January 2. It's sponsored by VOTERR, "Voices for Open and Truthful Election Results and Reform." The event is getting a boost from a mention on ex-Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean's national website ... Fatcat campaign donors are preparing to be hit up once again by San Diego City Council members Ralph Inzunza, Michael Zucchet, and Donna Frye, along with Mayor Dick Murphy. Inzunza and Zucchet are facing trial in the Cheetahs scandal and need more money to pay their lawyers. Frye is fighting the county registrar of voters over validating those nonbubbled ballots. Murphy, of course, takes the opposite position. All four are the beneficiaries of a new law passed by the council and recent advice letters by the city's Ethics Commission. Beginning in January, they may set up so-called legal defense funds to collect maximum $250 contributions from individuals, even those who have already given the maximum to their regular campaign committee. The move is believed sure to set off a reverse gold rush as city hall lobbyists race to fill the newly established coffers ... The son of 81-year-old Mercury 7 astronaut and longtime Rancho Santa Fe denizen Wally Schirra has been arraigned on child-sex tourism charges after being busted on November 6 at San Francisco International Airport trying to board a plane for Thailand. Bay Area property manager Walter Schirra, 54, is one of the first targets of a new federal law aimed at stopping Americans going abroad to solicit sex from children. Feds allege that a search of Schirra's luggage and residence found candy, sexual devices, and child pornography.

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