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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.

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Comments

drdebt Dec. 17, 2010 @ 8:35 a.m.

It was probably on the Obits page where stories die.

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Don Bauder Dec. 17, 2010 @ 9:12 a.m.

I couldn't find it. After I wrote the item, I read Voice of San Diego and noted that it had run Kelly Thornton's story. I still can't find it in the U-T. Best, Don Bauder

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SurfPuppy619 Dec. 17, 2010 @ 9:12 a.m.

So the public unions get spanked and then Goldsmith doesn't want – AND REFUSES- to pursue more than a $ MILLLION $$$ in fees and costs from 2,000 cops who are earning $150K or more per year in total compensation!!! Yeah, we don't want these underpaid cops to be out on the street or unable to put food on the table, They are only earning 400% more than the average worker in this state.

Hey, San Diego is rolling in the cash-no need to make deadbeat, $150K+ per year cops pay up, especially when they are your pals and buddies! Same old same old in San Diego.

This is “Exhibit A” as to the credibility of Mr. Jan "I wear a dead squirrel on my head" Goldsmith.

Don't believe a word out of this yahoo's mouth. His claims of BK costing $300 million is as legit as his decision to not go after the deadbeat cops for millions in debt they owe.

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Don Bauder Dec. 17, 2010 @ 9:15 a.m.

You have pinned down Goldsmith very well, SurfPup. There is absolutely no valid reason why the city has not gone after those legal fees. The only reason would be Goldsmith's snug relationship with the police union, which helped his election by smearing Aguirre with lawsuits the union now says were frivolous. How quintessentially San Diego! Best, Don Bauder

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SurfPuppy619 Dec. 17, 2010 @ 9:53 a.m.

If they had the $$$ to wage 3 civil lawsutis costing US TAXPAYERS $8 million, then they have the million to cough up that they OWE.

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Don Bauder Dec. 17, 2010 @ 12:56 p.m.

The union won't cough up anything unless the city attorney goes after the money the city is owed. And don't expect him to do that. Best, Don Bauder

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a2zresource Dec. 17, 2010 @ 5:04 p.m.

Ahem... San Diego peace officers AND their union are just about half way to declaring themselves in public to be vexatious litigants?!?

Didn't anybody with a badge take the time to read the Complaints BEFORE signing?

All San Diego criminal defense attorneys, take notice and copious notes...

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Don Bauder Dec. 17, 2010 @ 5:39 p.m.

Three suits do not a vexatious litigant make. But it's significant that the union realizes it was wrong. Best, Don Bauder

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a2zresource Dec. 17, 2010 @ 9:18 p.m.

5 just might do it in Superior Court... which is why I said "about half way"!

They may get all the way there if things break bad next year over scarce municipal resources, like hiz honor earlier threatened before Proposition D went poof in a cloud of popular disapproval.

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Don Bauder Dec. 17, 2010 @ 10:19 p.m.

But I don't think the police officers will be anxious to be filing another suit soon, since the prior ones are such an embarrassment. Best, Don Bauder

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a2zresource Dec. 18, 2010 @ 4:59 p.m.

Let us hope that experience brings wisdom.

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SurfPuppy619 Dec. 17, 2010 @ 8:22 p.m.

Three suits do not a vexatious litigant make.

All it takes in federal court is two lawsuits to get that label.

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Don Bauder Dec. 17, 2010 @ 10:20 p.m.

It would seem to me to be an extreme case if someone filing two suits in federal court were declared a vexatious litigant. The circumstances would have to be unusual. But you are the lawyer. Best, Don Bauder

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JustWondering Dec. 18, 2010 @ 4:30 p.m.

First off to be clear, participation in the litigation was voluntary, not mandatory.

Second, the POA did not charge it members. The attorney Mr. Petersen, first thorough his former Orange County law firm and then as an individual attorney charged nearly 3 million dollars in fees over the years of litigation. The POA only acted as middle man, funneling the payments to Petersen.

Petersen, who was could have been described the Jim Bakker/Jimmy Swaggart of litigation attorneys at the time, sold a lot folks a bill of goods, with promises never delivered. However, Mr. Petersen's skills as an attorney...well that's still up to debate as is his $20 Million of malpractice insurance. Suffice to say, nearly identical litigation was won in the Northern District. In another case Petersen, failed to present absolutely vital evidence, the City's own memoranda and resolutions, that promised life time health care for retiree in 1982.

You can draw your own conclusions from these additional facts. And for reasons of full disclosure, I was not parts of any of these cases. My own evaluation, especially the Donning and Doffing litigation, was it was ridiculous no matter what happened in Northern California.

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SurfPuppy619 Dec. 18, 2010 @ 11:16 p.m.

Second, the POA did not charge it members. The attorney Mr. Petersen, first thorough his former Orange County law firm and then as an individual attorney charged nearly 3 million dollars in fees over the years of litigation. The POA only acted as middle man, funneling the payments to Petersen

LOL....yes, the union collected millions in fees from their members "voluntarily" but was only the "middle man". A ridiculous comment. The union went to war with frivilous lawsuits, as in more than one, got spanked, apologizes profusely, but here JustClueless is refusing to accept responsibility and come clean and admit they were wrong.

And $3 million is serious money. I have a hard time believing this guy has a $20 million insurance policy, but one thing is for sure-the insurance company will defend this guy no matter what the cost if there is a policy for $20 million-they will spend $10 million fighting instead of settling for 1/10th that cost-that is their culture.

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Don Bauder Dec. 19, 2010 @ 7:37 a.m.

Yes, the insurance company is likely to put up a legal defense that drags this out longer. There may be a good side to that: more information about those suits could come to light. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Dec. 18, 2010 @ 4:51 p.m.

If what you say is true, why does Michael Conger, attorney for the police group, say that the police officers association apologizes profusely? You say it was wholly voluntary and the association was only a middle man, collecting the money and passing it on to the attorney. But Conger is apologizing for the association. Best, Don Bauder

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