Garrett Harris 10:11 p.m., May 23
City attorney seeks $500K for private counsel to defend fireworks lawsuits
The San Diego City Council, meeting in a special session today, is set to consider granting a contract worth up to $500,000 to the law firm Latham & Watkins at the request of city attorney Jan Goldsmith to represent the city in defending against litigation related to alleged violations of the California Environmental Quality Act as a result of offshore fireworks displays.
On the other side of the issue, lawyer Marco Gonzalez of Coast Law Group has prevailed in the first three suits to be decided by superior court. Gonzalez has been representing the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation, has served as official counsel for the Surfrider Foundation’s San Diego chapter, and is now going public with an admonition against city attorney Jan Goldsmith for recommending the hiring of Latham & Watkins as outside counsel.
First, Gonzalez says, Goldsmith has gone on record in recent years with an article in the city attorney’s newsletter entitled Taking Back Outside Counsel Cases that boasts of the cost savings realized by the attorney keeping most litigation in-house.
“There is a role for outside private law firms assisting the City in cases where it is impossible or impracticable for the City Attorney’s Office to act as the City’s lawyers. These are situations involving conflicts of interests or special areas of practice,” writes Goldsmith in the piece, making the case that there remain exceptions to his stated policy of preferring in-house representation.
Gonzalez then goes on to suggest that a conflict of interest itself exists with the Latham firm, as it was hired to represent the La Jolla Community Fireworks Foundation – against whom Gonzalez successfully argued in 2011 that debris from exploding shells could be harming marine life in a nearby sanctuary and that review of the matter was needed. The judgment that year was stayed to allow the Fourth of July fireworks display to continue.
Meanwhile, a bill pushed by the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and introduced in the state legislature by Juan Vargas that would allow local agencies to grant exemptions to the Environmental Quality Act for annual fireworks displays appears to have stalled, having failed to get out of committee in a July session.
Coast Law Group, Gonzalez’ firm, will appear before the council to urge the city “to put as much energy into resolving the lawsuits as it has into fighting them.”