The city attorney's office has been ordered to open up last year's closed-session transcripts to reveal what took place during the feud between ex-mayor Bob Filner and city attorney Jan Goldsmith's right-hand man, Andrew Jones.
Judge Richard Strauss ruled on October 3 that the city is obligated to release closed-session transcripts from meetings where the former mayor allegedly ordered executive assistant city attorney Andrew Jones to the back of the room during a private council hearing.
After the meeting, Jones went to the press with details, likening it to the Rosa Parks bus ride in Montgomery, Alabama. But Jones wasn't the only one from the city attorney's office to divulge what occurred during the confidential hearing. The office jumped on a request from U-T San Diego to see a transcript of another run-in between Jones and Filner. They released the transcript to 10News and the U-T on the same day; however, they refused to release a transcript of a previous spat between Jones and Filner to San Diegans for Open Government.
The refusal resulted in a July 3, 2013, lawsuit against the city. More than one year later and countless attorney hours, Judge Strauss made his final ruling.
"We are mindful of the press of business of public agencies, especially in these difficult fiscal times, and do not hold the city to an impossible standard, merely a reasonable one," Strauss wrote. "The city is not justified in arguing that it did everything it could or should have to do, nor that all the fault lay with the [court reporter]…. When combined with San Diego Municipal Code Rule 84, which requires that 'all closed sessions shall be transcribed by a certified court reporter' and retained, the court orders the city to produce the redacted transcripts upon tender by petitioner or estimated fees."
But the city attorney's office continues to take a hard line, and sees the decision as a partial victory.
"Judge Strauss did refer to the City of San Diego in upholding what the City did regarding the existing transcript: 'The Court has reviewed the entire unredacted transcript. The Court finds that all of the redacted sections were very narrow and appropriately involved attorney-client privilege. The city did not waive its attorney-client privilege,'" writes spokesperson for city attorney Jan Goldsmith, Michael Giorgino.
When asked why the city attorney’s office didn't locate the records in the first place to prevent the city from entering into a long legal battle, Giorgino responded, “The 'records' sought were transcripts of closed session meetings. Transcripts of other closed session meetings do not exist because the City does not order transcripts unless they are needed for a specific purpose (that has been the policy since Mike Aguirre first brought in court reporters in about 2005). Thus, transcripts do not exist for other meetings. Therefore, there was nothing to produce. Only the court reporter’s notes exist, which she would use to prepare transcripts if paid to do that."
And now the city attorney's office has entered into a new spat with Briggs over the cost of transcribing the meetings.
"After the court reporter is paid and the transcripts are prepared, an attorney would need to go through the transcripts and redact confidential attorney-client material. All of that costs money. Judge Stauss required Briggs’ client to pay estimated fees before we incur those expenses. Mr. Briggs has stated that he wants to see the transcripts before agreeing to pay. Thus, if he doesn’t want them after reviewing them, the costs would be on taxpayers. But, that’s not what Judge Strauss ordered. Briggs has it wrong. He pays first. Our office filed papers with the court specifying how those estimated fees would be calculated."
The two sides took to Twitter to argue their case.
"If Briggs wants the limited unredacted portion of closed session, he is required to pay for it," tweeted executive city attorney Paul Cooper.
Briggs responded, "You forgot that I offered to pay a year ago despite not being required to do so. Still your office refused.”
Late, he responded again, "How much should I put on the check?"
After the cost is worked out, the public will have the opportunity to read just what transpire behind closed doors that eventually led to what was a very public feud between the city's then mayor and its city attorney, one that was laid out in an unsigned and undated written declaration from Jones.