Jan Goldsmith
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City attorney Jan Goldsmith is asking the San Diego City Council for help in a lawsuit over his refusal to turn over private emails he sent to reporters and lobbyists from multiple email accounts. His case might be better if none of the emails discussed city business, but that is not the case.

However, because attorneys have already been retained by the city attorney, councilmembers will have little choice but to approve the contract.

Late last Friday, July 25, city-council president Todd Gloria, in charge of docketing agenda items, posted a supplemental agenda item for this Tuesday's council hearing.

"Declaring by the Council of the City of San Diego, that the Council grants City Attorney Jan I. Goldsmith’s defense request under Government Code Section 995, as statutorily required, to the civil action entitled San Diegans for Open Government v. Jan I. Goldsmith."

The request is a few weeks late. Goldsmith, with special authorization from chief operating officer Scott Chadwick, hired Jacqueline Vinaccia from law firm Lounsberry Ferguson Altona and Peak on June 26 to represent him in the lawsuit from San Diegans for Open Government.

But reporters weren't the only ones allowed unfettered access to Goldsmith. In fact, the city attorney made sure numerous people had access by using at least three private email accounts. According to emails released during the court case, lobbyists and others knew exactly which addresses to use when contacting the city attorney.

The emails date as far back as 2009. Examples include a lunch invitation that Neighborhood Market Association president Mark Arabo sent to two of Goldsmith's personal accounts "jgcityattorney" on Gmail and Yahoo. Around that same time, business-improvement district guru Marco Li Mandri requested a lunch date using the same email accounts.

Despite his frequent use of private email, Goldsmith denied San Diegans for Open Government attorney Cory Briggs’s request in a 2013 public records request. The refusal led to the current lawsuit, which in turn led to the hiring of the outside firm.

Shortly after being retained, Goldsmith's private attorney went on the attack. On July 10, Vinaccia sent an email to attorney Briggs demanding that he retract comments he made to the Reader, accusing the city attorney of misusing public money.

And then there's the issue of the Goldsmith's decision to hire Lounsberry Ferguson Altona and Peak without city-council approval. That decision, in fact, directly contradicts memos his office issued on the matter, intended on limiting hiring outside counsel.

The November 2009 legal opinion relied heavily on a 1977 opinion from former city attorney John Witt, who, strangely enough, happens to work as an attorney for Lounsberry Ferguson Altona and Peak.

The memo stated, in part, that the council has "limited authority" to hire outside attorneys and must occur only when there aren't any qualified attorneys at the city to handle the case. And while council has limited authority, according to the memo, the mayor has even less. The mayor can enter into outside contracts, including with attorneys, if the cost does not exceed $250,000 per year. Despite this, the city attorney went forward with retaining Vinaccia in a private lawsuit.

"I worry about possible violations of the Conflict of Interest law Section 1090," former city attorney Mike Aguirre told the Reader on July 14. "Participating in the making of a contract for the use of city funds for a private litigation purpose may be found to transgress Government Code Section 1090’s prohibitions. I would urge the Mayor and City Attorney to proceed with caution."

Other potential issues have also been raised.

Currently, an attorney from Lounsberry Ferguson Altona and Peak is representing Suncoast Botanicals, which sued the city in 2013 for breach of contract.

Several attempts to contact the city attorney were made inquiring about the potential conflict of interest. The city attorney's office declined to comment on each occasion.

City councilmembers will discuss the item during the morning council session on July 29.

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Comments

eastlaker July 28, 2014 @ 9:28 a.m.

Between Bonnie Dumanis and Jan Goldsmith, one wonders about the judgment of these San Diego leading 'legal minds'.

Aren't things getting a bit sticky for them? Isn't it about time for these two to announce that they need to spend more time with family, or pursue other interests?

Cover-ups generally mean that people know they have not done what they were supposed to do, or have done what they should not have done.

I guess there must be some wiggle room for Goldsmith and Dumanis, wiggle room that they wouldn't necessarily allow anyone else.

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rehftmann July 28, 2014 @ 3:05 p.m.

It's wiggle time, not room, that we need to worry about, since the folks in power assume they are easily worth forty or fifty times San Diego's minimum hourly labor rate. It may be that they lose some wiggle if there was some doubt about collection on their bills. (One can expect unspecified charges for "professional services" like the accountants' invoices that came in for the pension debacle/city credit audits.) They may not have the righteous zeal of lawyers who know what it feels like to get stiffed or work just because it's the right thing to do, like the legal organizations watching out for the rest of us and the environment. Ask Mike Aguirre, we owe him plenty. One way or another, it would be nice to have a government that worked for us more and wiggled away from us less.

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monaghan July 28, 2014 @ 9:10 p.m.

Bonnie just got re-elected D.A. You'll have to wait four more years for her to step down. Goldsmith has the same two years left as Filner would have had, had he remained Mayor. But Goldsmith will be termed out by then and he will need to find a sinecure. Maybe the Reader will organize a pool so we can speculate and bet on his ultimate resting place.

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