Walter Mencken 10:06 a.m., Feb. 6
Eight-Year Saga of Port's Phantom $21 Million for Ballpark Finally Ends. It's a Tale of Typical San Diego Deceit
Judge William R. Nevitt, Jr. has ruled that former port commissioner Harvey Furgatch is entitled to attorney fees and statutory costs of $683,000 in his long-running lawsuit showing that the $21 million that the port district suddenly came up with in October of 1998 to fill a hole in ballpark financing was illegal. The City paid $309,000 in August, taking money from Centre City Development Corp. to cover it. The port paid the rest in August. It's a story of typical San Diego corruption and the courts' and governments' attempts to cover it up. On October 20 of 1998, three weeks before the vote on the ballpark, David Malcolm, then port chairman, and Susan Golding, then mayor, announced that the port would provide $21 million for the ballpark. (There had been a hole that large in the financing package.) Furgatch knew it was fraud. There had been no announced port meeting. He sued on two grounds, and showed that the port clearly had held an unannounced, closed-session meeting to discuss the ballpark gift. Two Superior Court judges, Linda Quinn and S. Charles Wickersham, threw out the suits on grounds that appellate courts subsequently knocked down. In the Wickersham suit, the appeals court got rather testy, lecturing the judge on how to handle such a suit. Finally, it went to a third judge. Furgatch's attorney Stan Zubel showed clearly that the $21 million gift violated port district and tidelands law. Just before the judge was to decide, the City and port backed out of the deal. "They knew the judge would rule against them," says Zubel. Then Furgatch attempted to recover his costs. Witness after witness got up and swore that Furgatch's case had had nothing to do with the City and the port backing out just before a decision was to be made. But Nevitt saw through the claims; he ruled that Furgatch's case was clearly a catalyst in the City's and port's pullout. A few years after he announced the phantom $21 million, David Malcolm pleaded guilty to felony conflict of interest for taking $20,000 a month from a port tenant while he was a commissioner.