The clerk in downtown's divorce court says that the 1993 case of former police chief, now mayoral candidate, Jerry Sanders and his ex-wife Kerrill is under seal and not available for public inspection. In March, a divorce-sealing law carried by San Diego state senator Christine Kehoe was struck down by Los Angeles judge Roy Paul on the grounds that it violated the public's right to obtain court records. The case involved the sealed files of supermarket mogul and Gray Davis pal Ron Burkle, a major contributor to the Democrats behind the bill. But any of Sanders's opponents who try to make hay out of his case are on the wrong track, according to Kerrill, a preschool teacher in La Mesa. "It was a very amicable parting. The case was sealed under advice of our attorneys to preserve our privacy," she said in a telephone interview this week. "People change, that's all. We have two kids, and everybody gets along fine. He's a great father, and he'll make a great mayor." ... Deborah Berger, fired by City Attorney Michael Aguirre, whom she had endorsed after losing her own primary bid against him, is holding two fund-raisers to retire her campaign debt. "No, I am not spear-heading a recall of Mike Aguirre in order to run again.... I had too much fun the first time to risk trying to duplicate it." Time and place: June 10, at lawyer and lobbyist Chris Frahm's downtown law office. Donors who already maxed out under the old $250 limit may now give an extra $50 under the city's new $300 cap, according to the invitation. The second fund-raiser, on June 26, is a "summer afternoon garden party" at Berger's house in Bonita.

Catch-23 It's shaping up to be another rough-and-tumble mayoral race in San Diego. Special-interest money -- expected to fuel a barrage of last-minute campaign hit pieces -- is pouring into campaign coffers. Add to that the self-funding by mega-millionaire Steve Francis and other candidates, along with a widely seen need to tear down the perceived lead of City Councilwoman Donna Frye, and the mud is virtually certain to fly. The city's loose fund-raising restrictions are expected to attract a raft of so-called independent campaign committees, formed to evade San Diego's ostensible $300 limit on individual contributions and outright ban on corporate money. County Democrats and Republicans are likely to join the fray, and the AFL-CIO's labor council can't be counted out. Last fall, for instance, Mayor Dick Murphy's campaign was the apparent beneficiary of a $75,000 contribution by Sempra Energy, the utility giant, which channeled the money through the county's Republican Central Committee on October 15. The same day, the committee wrote a $44,161 check to Western Graphics for a direct-mail piece on Murphy's behalf.

Also during the final weekend of Frye's campaign against Murphy last November, a political committee called Coalition to Keep San Diego Working (KEEP) launched a barrage of mail featuring a broad attack on Frye. Headlined "A school program at risk," one piece featured a grainy photo of a sinister-looking Frye in dark glasses and implied that she had voted against city funding for a popular after-school program. The mailer went on to encourage readers to "Call Councilwoman Frye and tell her she should support San Diego's children."

Ian Trowbridge fired off a complaint to the city's ethics commission, charging that the mailing's sponsors broke city law when they failed to make a late contribution report disclosing who had paid for the mailer. But last week, commission executive director Stacey Fulhorst ruled otherwise. In a letter to Trowbridge, she wrote that the commission had decided that KEEP's mailings "did not expressly support or oppose the election or defeat of a City candidate," and thus city disclosure rules did not apply. (After the campaign was over, KEEP made its regular year-end filing under state law, revealing that $112,000 to pay for the mailings had come from Mission Valley hotel magnate Terry Brown, the building industry, and real estate brokers.) Fulhorst added that the commission would "recommend the addition of an 'election communications' provision that would regulate any advertisements that mention a City candidate within a certain time period before a City election." Of course, the new law isn't expected to be ready in time for this July's mayoral election.

Lawyers and law The historic downtown law office of Melvin Belli, the late San Francisco attorney once known as the King of Torts, is on the block for a tidy $3.5 million. The small one-story brick building at 317 Ash, originally built as a funeral home, was designed by famous local architect Irving Gill. Cheetahs may be bad news for San Diego city councilmen Michael Zucchet and Ralph Inzunza, but across the desert in glittery Las Vegas, a woman who once worked as a topless dancer at the club there is said to be a leading candidate in the race for a new state judgeship. Thirty-nine-year-old Diana Hampton, who left her job as a Vegas prosecutor to run for judge, faces a June 7 runoff. She says she stripped for a year at the Cheetahs in Las Vegas to put herself through college.

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