Serrano believes that a second matter he handled contributed to his firing. He was in charge of the case in which the City successfully sued energy firm Kinder Morgan over the oil plume underneath Qualcomm Stadium property. “This has been to the 9th Circuit [Court of Appeals] and we won. The court has approved our pleadings,” says Serrano. He was in a settlement conference with Kinder Morgan’s law firm. “One of those lawyers laughingly told me, ‘We will see if you still have a job once Goldsmith is in.’ ” Those lawyers might have been tipped off to the coming dismissal. Many San Diegans suspect Sanders still wants to make a gift to the Chargers for a new stadium at the Qualcomm site, despite the City’s horrific financial condition. Anybody making a fat subsidy difficult could wind up on the guillotine list.
Another deputy city attorney who was on the mayor’s hit list was Michael Calabrese, who worked in resource management and conservation and who also was fired once Goldsmith got in. Andrew Jones, a former member of Aguirre’s staff who campaigned for Goldsmith and was awarded with a position as key aide, told Calabrese about the mayor’s list. “It was very directly acknowledged to us that a list did exist, and I was told by several people that I was on it,” says Calabrese. Like Serrano, Calabrese got in trouble because he was trying to steer the City out of ethical problems. He had raised questions over the Regents Road bridge over Rose Canyon. He had said that members of the parking board in La Jolla should file financial disclosure forms, a decision that the California Fair Political Practices Commission affirmed.
But the action that probably put him on the mayor’s assassination list was his insistence that a contract awarded to a consulting firm as part of Sanders’s sacrosanct managed-competition program should go to the council for approval. “That may have gotten me in the doghouse,” he says.
Kimberly Urie is a longtime expert in complex white-collar crime cases. She was hired by Aguirre, who wanted to set up sophisticated fraud-sleuthing systems similar to those in Los Angeles and San Francisco. After Goldsmith came in, Urie got fired. “Jan Goldsmith intends that the criminal division scale back to handling only the simpler, traditional crimes such as DUIs, which of course are important, shoplifting, and minor drug possession,” says Urie. “Apparently Goldsmith is not interested in investigating or prosecuting more complex offenses such as violations of the political reform act by appointed and elected officials or instances of government procurement fraud — say, where contract specs are purposely written so that only one vendor can win the competitive bidding. Handling complex cases does cost more than doing only the simpler cases, but residents need to realize that the abuses resulting from violations of trust by those in power are ultimately much more expensive.”
But the San Diego establishment is not concerned about violations of trust, particularly since that establishment is responsible for so many of the violations. It does not want white-collar-crime enforcement in a city that is known nationwide as a haven for political corruption, Ponzi schemes, real estate swindles, up-front loan fee scams, affinity frauds, phony accounting by public companies, money laundering, and other fleece jobs.
Some of the top people in the office were shooed out by other methods. Consider Chris Morris, head of the criminal division, and Mia Severson, head of the civil division. “Goldsmith reached out to me during the campaign, but no direct communications were ever made,” says Morris. “After he got elected he called me down for an interview. He made it sound like he was going to keep me around. But I got word through an intermediary that he wasn’t going to keep me around. I resigned.” Severson was demoted. She resigned instead and is now partner in a law firm with Aguirre and Morris.
Don McGrath was a key Aguirre aide. One of those who worked for McGrath was Andrew Jones, now Goldsmith’s aide-de-camp. Goldsmith “never talked with me,” says McGrath. “He sends Andrew Jones up, and Andrew says, ‘You are a campaign promise.’ I was one year away from a city pension and brought $22 million into the city coffers” by handling monetary settlements with accounting firms, pension consultants, insurance companies, and other service providers the City had sued. So McGrath went to Aguirre, who eliminated McGrath’s position so he wouldn’t have to suffer the indignity.
Kathryn Burton, former assistant city attorney, also left before Goldsmith could swing the ax. “The deputy city attorneys were fired because they refused to be yes-men,” she says. “Those that were fired were the best public interest lawyers in the office.”
And that goes to the heart of it: the fired lawyers were working in the public interest. Goldsmith and Sanders are working for private interests.