The question of who gave city attorney Jan Goldsmith authority to hire outside legal counsel on the city's dime without council approval is answered, says the city attorney's office.
Assistant city attorney Dan Bamberg says it was mayor Kevin Faulconer who intervened, granting the city attorney "independent authority...pending council approval" to hire municipal law specialist Jacqueline Vinaccia to represent him in the lawsuit challenging his refusal to turn over emails from his private Yahoo! account.
Goldsmith's use of his private email account has been well-documented.
During his feud with former mayor Bob Filner, Goldsmith conversed on a regular basis with U-T San Diego reporters, most of the time using his personal email account. And, when asked by the Reader and NBC San Diego to turn over the emails, Goldsmith's office fought to keep the emails confidential. Then, Cory Briggs, an attorney for San Diegans for Open Government, submitted a public records request for many of the same emails but Goldsmith and his office claimed there were no emails. Briggs then filed a lawsuit. Since, Goldsmith has released over 900 emails from his private account, says Briggs.
While finally agreeing to release some emails, it is the city attorney's decision to hire outside legal counsel without council approval that has raised some questions, especially for other local officials currently fighting the city to reimburse them for legal expenses. The most recent case is that of city auditor Eduardo Luna.
Luna retained former city attorney Mike Aguirre to help him fight two investigations launched by former mayor Jerry Sanders just days before Luna released an audit slamming the Development Services Department over billing issues and other inefficiencies. The investigations looked into whether Luna had mishandled a claim from a subordinate who was hurt after falling from a balance board during work hours. In an effort to debunk the claims, Luna sought Aguirre's help. The legal help cost Luna $60,000. Ever since, Luna has fought to get his money back but the city attorney and Risk Management have denied his claims.
Luna has tried to convince council president Todd Gloria to let council decide, as reported by U-T San Diego. “During the past several years, it has been common practice in the city of San Diego to pay for outside legal fees of various city officials under investigation regardless of whether a claim was filed. One recent example occurred in 2012, when city officials and employees were represented by outside legal counsel when interviewed by PERB investigators, who reviewed their role in advocating for pension reform as ‘private’ citizens.”
But, according to Goldsmith's spokesperson, time was of the essence in regards to seeking outside legal help.
"There was not sufficient time to seek and obtain approval given the need to file an answer," wrote Bamberg in a July 3 email. "The lawsuit is about more than e-mails. Mr. Briggs filed an amended complaint seeking an injunction against communications with the media and providing certain legal advice. These frivolous claims, together with the other claims, raise the prospect that a number of lawyers in our office will become witnesses, including the City Attorney, unless the case is dismissed by the court. We use outside counsel in cases where attorneys in our office are witnesses. The City Attorney, personally, was not involved in retaining the Lounsbery law firm."
Briggs, of course, disagrees with Bamberg's description.
"The lawsuit does not seek an injunction against communications with the press or against the giving of legal advice and actually does not seek to compel any action except the disclosure of public records and the return of public money that Goldsmith has illegally spent," Briggs responded. "He remains free to communicate with and advise anyone.
"As for the 'frivolous claims,' the city attorney’s office identified at least ‘2600 hits’ weeks after telling me that it had no responsive public records— even though it had given responsive records to [the Reader] and NBC one day earlier. This morning we were allowed to review more than 900 pages of responsive public records. So describing our claim that the city attorney wrongfully withheld public records as ‘frivolous’ is, well, frivolous."
The two sides will appear in judge Ronald Prager's courtroom at 1:30 p.m. on July 8.