Don Bauder 5:30 p.m., March 14
Police Sorry They Brought Frivolous Lawsuits, Suing Their Lawyer
A superb story on KPBS.org demonstrates perfectly how San Diego operates. The story was written by Kelly Thornton of Watchdog Institute, which is affiliated with San Diego State University. Gist: the San Diego Police Officers Association has filed a malpractice suit against the Orange County lawyer who represented them in lawsuits that were filed against the City of San Diego. The police group, which charged 1500 of its own members $20 to $40 a month to pursue the suits, lost them all. The most-publicized suit charged former City Attorney Mike Aguirre of bribery and extortion in contract negotiations with police. The suit asked for Aguirre's removal from office. Aguirre believes the suits were part of the campaign to smear him. "The same crowd" behind the police suits got the State Bar to do a highly-publicized investigation of him, Aguirre told me.
Now Michael Conger, a veteran of pension-related lawsuits, is suing attorney Gregory Petersen for filing frivolous lawsuits on behalf of the police union, explains Thornton's story. "The San Diego Police Officers Association knows this was expensive litigation for the city and has apologized profusely and we've done what we can to make it right," Conger says in the KPBS story. The City of San Diego spent $8.6 million fighting those suits. The police officers suing admit that two of the three lawsuits they filed were frivolous. Petersen says he will vigorously defend the malpractice suits against him.
Although the city won the suits, it did not seek payment of its attorneys fees, according to the story. City Attorney Jan Goldsmith's spokesperson Gina Coburn said that Goldsmith deferred the decision on seeking attorney fees to outside law firm Latham & Watkins, which didn't feel it was worth pursuing more than $1 million in legal fees in one of the three cases. Aguirre told Thornton, "I believe the reason Goldsmith didn't seek the attorneys' fees is not because of anything Latham said but because of his close relationship with the police officers union, [which is] among his biggest and most vocal supporters."
The whole sordid episode shows the lengths that the police will go "to hold on to their pensions," Aguirre told me.
The Watchdog Institute is connected with the Union-Tribune. I have not seen this story appear in the U-T, but it might have been there and I missed it.