Mike Aguirre, former city attorney, knows that he is a public figure in San Diego, but he nonetheless sued the publication CityBeat for libel today (December 5) in Superior Court.
A public figure has a high hill to climb in a libel suit — in fact, if someone calls him or her a jerk or a fool, it's futile to sue for libel; it's an opinion.
Aguirre says that CityBeat published an item with reckless disregard for the truth. On November 12, the publication ran an article that panned Carl DeMaio, Bob Filner, and Aguirre — although DeMaio was the main person skewered. In his suit, Aguirre focuses on one sentence: "Aguirre frequently considered one's academic underpinnings as an accurate measuring stick of culpability — among council members, he considered [now Representative Scott] Peters most liable in the city's underfunding debacle because he attended Duke University." (Italics mine.)
As he pointed out in the libel suit, Aguirre, when he was city attorney, issued a 112-page report on San Diego's pension mess — on February 9 of 2005. It was full of charts, graphs, copies of emails, and myriad material as he made the case that people in San Diego government were responsible for the crisis. In that document, Aguirre said two city-council officials, mayor Dick Murphy and then-council member Scott Peters, were the most to blame because they had the education and sophistication to understand what the city was doing.
The paragraph read, "The Mayor and Council Member Scott Peters have the most relevant training for understanding the complex facts and circumstances. Both are Phi Beta Kappa graduates with economic degrees. Mayor Murphy holds a Masters of Business Administration Degree from the Harvard Business School. Peters is a graduate of Duke University. Mayor Murphy has a law degree from Stanford. Member Peters has a law degree from New York University. Mayor Murphy was an associate of the law firm of Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps. Council Member Peters was an associate at the firm of Baker & McKenzie."
The document went on to say that "Mr. Peters had considerably less experience than Mayor Murphy." That was boiled down to "he considered Peters most liable in the city's underfunding debacle because he attended Duke University."
Without question, that was an egregiously misleading telescoping. But a judge will have to decide if it is libel.
Earlier this week, Aguirre sent CityBeat his libel threat, demanding a correction. He got a letter but not a correction, so he filed the suit.