Jan Goldsmith (as Sherlock Holmes)
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Over the course of several years, San Diego city attorney Jan Goldsmith has accused environmental lawyer Cory Briggs of filing frivolous lawsuits and of conflicts of interest involving his wife's former employer.

Now, attorneys for the city are examining dozens of legal complaints and court declarations in hopes of finding proof that Briggs used electronic signatures or had others in his office sign for him.

Joe Cordileone

Joe Cordileone

"It was recently brought to our attention that many declarations you filed with the court do not contain your signature," reads a May 29 letter to Briggs from top deputy city attorney Joe Cordileone. "These declarations, of course, contain the following language: 'I declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct.’

"Our office spot checked 64 court declarations retrieved from various court filings involving the city and found that 30 do not appear to be your signature. Our spot check covered several years but was limited to declarations. However there are many other documents in the court's file purportedly signed by you that also appear to be signed by someone other than yourself."

In his letter, Cordileone, who has been characterized by some opposing attorneys as the city attorney's attack dog, says the purpose of the letter was to allow Briggs to respond to the signature discrepancies and to "correct official court records" or have them expunged.

Cordileone did not rule out any criminal proceedings.

"This letter is not intended to threaten legal action or solicit a settlement. Nor is it a waiver of any claim or right.

"Notwithstanding your extremely antagonistic attitude towards this office, our office believes that the best approach to a prompt resolution is to communicate with you about what we have discovered and work together to correct the court records."

In an email, Briggs said he had no comment on the letter or the accusations from Cordileone and the city attorney's office.

Local attorney Dan Gilleon, who has tried several high-profile cases against the City of San Diego, says the practice of using electronic signatures on court documents is a non-issue.

"I use CudaSign formers Signnow all the time," said Gilleon in a June 1 email about an electronic-signing program. "I also use an electronic signature via [Microsoft] word. I don't let other attorneys sign my declarations. I let other attorneys sign ‘for’ me on pleadings but not declarations under penalty of perjury."

In a June 1 letter, Pedro Quiroz Jr., CEO for nonprofit San Diegans for Open Government, the group that hired the Briggs Law Corporation to serve as its counsel, attacked the city attorney for accusing Briggs of forgery and for wasting public resources.

"Criminal charges are a serious thing,” said Quiroz. “Mr. Briggs cannot and should not participate in a system that is so clearly biased against him, that is doing everything it can to take him out of the equation. But with bogus criminal accusations flying — including from an angry criminal prosecutor who, when wearing his civil litigator hat, has been beaten time and again by Mr. Briggs — the best course of action is to say nothing...."

Quiroz also slammed KPBS-affiliate iNewsource for its seven-month investigation of Briggs and the nearly two dozen articles it published accusing Briggs and his wife of, among other things, committing perjury, entering into shady land deals, and for forming nonprofits whose sole mission was to line the attorney's pockets.

In the most recent article, reporters for iNewsource accused Briggs and the 30 nonprofits he has represented of "flouting" state and federal laws for failing to file financial documents and mission statements, as required by law.

Regarding San Diegans for Open Government, the news organization claimed the nonprofit skirted a requirement to register the group as a charitable trust with California's attorney general.

"Although it formed in 2008, San Diegans for Open Government did not provide the state attorney general’s charities division with five years’ worth of state or federal filings until April 2014, after the division threatened to revoke the group’s tax-exempt status," reads a May 28 iNewsource report.

Documents filed with the attorney general show otherwise.

On July 2011, the attorney general's office received a registration form from San Diegans for Open Government. The registration came after several letters from the attorney general that questioned whether San Diegans for Open Government was a charitable trust.

"We have received information indicating that this organization may be subject to the registration and reporting requirements in sections 12585 and 12586 of the California Government Code. The following items must be submitted in order for this office to make a determination concerning the above captioned entity’s compliance with the law and regulations," read a May 5, 2011, letter from the attorney general.

Members of the nonprofit say the investigation and the accusations of criminal misconduct against Briggs are part of an effort by the city attorney and hoteliers to silence Briggs: the hotel industry is fighting a lawsuit from San Diegans for Open Government over taxes.

"To be clear,” said Quiroz, “I don’t think Mr. Goldsmith and the hotelier-supported media sincerely believe Mr. Briggs has broken any laws. But the goal here is not to see Mr. Briggs behind bars, though that would certainly help them and all the other special interests that he fights on [San Diegans for Open Government] behalf. They would be happy just having a superficial reason to charge Mr. Briggs with a crime, snap a mugshot, and blast a picture of him holding up a booking placard across the airwaves (with iNewsource and KPBS ‘breaking’ the story). The false accusations will eventually fade from memory, but that mugshot will live on forever — at least in the minds of Mr. Goldsmith and all the hoteliers and special interests Mr. Briggs has been fighting."

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Comments

Sjtorres June 2, 2015 @ 10:09 a.m.

Ambulance chasers Dan Gilleon, Cory Briggs, Marco Gonzalez, Pedro Quiroz have gotten rich off taxpayers money. They need full scrutiny of all their records.

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Wabbitsd June 2, 2015 @ 11:28 a.m.

Classic photo of Mr. Goldsmith. And Sjtorres, doesn't being a parrot get old after a while?

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swell June 2, 2015 @ 11:52 a.m.

Golly, I sometimes get signed emails from the White House and various senators. Is it possible that they didn't really sign them? I am shocked!

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dwbat June 2, 2015 @ 12:25 p.m.

Even worse is that when I was very young, I got Xmas gifts sometimes signed by "Santa" (and now I know that signature was fake). Growing up is such a disappointment. No wonder "Peter Pan" is so popular.

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Brad_Racino June 2, 2015 @ 11:53 a.m.

My God Dorian, I know you don't have an editor but would you at least fact-check before reporting that we're wrong about something? We even provided the documents in the linked version of the story for you. I don't think we could have made it any easier.

Here is a link: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/2084344-san-diegans-for-open-government.html#document/p46/a218442

Notice the stamps on the top right for all five year's worth of filings, received April 4, 2014. Notice the signatures of Karin Langwasser for all five year's worth of filings on the bottom right hand corner, all dated April 2, 2014.

I don't expect we'll see a correction in your story, or a tweet about it, but there you go.

Next time, maybe call me and save yourself the time?

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Dorian Hargrove June 2, 2015 @ 12:32 p.m.

Thanks for the comment. Here's a nifty timeline straight from California Attorney General's website. For anyone else that wants to follow along, here's a link...type in "San Diegans for Open Government" in the field labeled: "organization name."

--In Dec. 2010, two years after SDOG is created, the Attorney General sends a letter asking for more information to see whether group should be classified as a charitable trust:

"We have received information indicating that this organization MAY be subject to the registration and reporting requirements of the Supervision of Trustees and Fundraisers for Charitable Purposes Act (Government Code sections 12580, et seq.)."

--Feb. 2011 AG sends another letter requesting more information before determination is made. It wants, among other things, registration form and fees to start trust.

--In March and May 2011 AG sends the same letter again.

--July 2011 SDOG sends in their initial registration form.

--In July 2011 AG sends another letter not asking for registration form or money as in previous letters but for amended article of incorporation. This is taken to mean that previous demands were addressed.

--Fast forward to Nov. 2013. AG send a letters saying unsure whether group is a charitable trust. Requests additional information, much of the same in earlier correspondence.

--March 2014, AG designates group as charitable trust. Requests registration, fees, and other documents be submitted.

--April 2014, SDOG submits all necessary paperwork to be classified as a charitable trust.

So, yes, you are correct. The stamps all say April 2014, one month after AG makes the final determination.

I don't expect any tweets or corrections. Maybe next time, do some thorough research and save me time from having to.

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WhoIsWatchingTheWatchers June 2, 2015 @ 1:53 p.m.

Mr. Hargrove: Thank you for looking at the attorney general's documents. Your post does not have an active link I could find, but I found the website on my own. Sure enough it looks like the document the general wanted was there back in 2011. My takeaway from your timeline is that the group submitted everything it was asked for within a couple weeks of the general's office finally figuring out what it already had and what it still needed. Am I reading it right?

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Dorian Hargrove June 2, 2015 @ 2:36 p.m.

WIWTW: Sorry for not including the link. There were a few months when SDOG did not respond within the 30 days, thus the two similar letters in March and May 2011. After that things appeared resolved. Then in Nov. 2013, the AG again wanted to see if SDOG should be considered a charitable trust. In March it said it was one. SDOG then submitted all necessary paperwork and fees.

In a way, Brad Racino was correct that SDOG didn't pay and submit all necessary paperwork until 2014. The part they left out was they did so less than one month after the Attorney General made the final determination. Not sure where the crime is there.

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PedroQuiroz June 2, 2015 @ 2:37 p.m.

"My God Dorian, I know you don't have an editor" - Mr. Racino, you have an editor and you have a chairwoman who was an editor and you still got it wrong. You wrote that Briggs and his wife committed real estate fraud when they refinanced their home but didn’t live in it. However, the mortgage document you relied on actually showed different addresses for their home and the property being refinanced. It’s hardly fraud when you tell the bank that you live in one place and are refinancing another. Why did your editor and chairwoman not catch that mistake? Your editors also signed their own mortgage document with identical language in 2007 even though before and after they claimed to be living in different homes. Why didn’t your editors catch their own hypocrisy?

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Sjtorres June 2, 2015 @ 1:03 p.m.

These front groups for Briggs et al are anything but charitable or resembling a charity. They are simply getting rich by being litigious and the easiest and most lucrative target is the taxpayer. They need full scrutiny. Good job Brad, keep it up.

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monaghan June 2, 2015 @ 1:20 p.m.

Brad Racino, who works at an SDSU-sponsored KPBS affiliate called inewsource, has been flailing around for months trying to discredit environmental attorney Cory Briggs.

San Diegans ought to worry about getting on the wrong side of powerful friends of unscrupulous GOP City Attorney Jan Goldsmith who has turned to those SDSU-run media outlets for character assassination of political enemies. Character assassination worked on Democratic former Mayor Bob Filner. It doesn't seem to be working on Cory Briggs.

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shirleyberan June 2, 2015 @ 1:38 p.m.

Wabbitsd - Don't worry about people who hide from the truth to hide the truth. They don't know it when they see it and if they did they couldn't handle the truth. Fear based BS.

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patflannery June 2, 2015 @ 2:42 p.m.

Dorian, I have a question. The AG's letter dated March 27, 2014 states that SDOG was operating as an "unregistered entity" during the years 2008 to 2012. Did the April 2014 filing of five RFF-1s retrospectively change this status to a "registered entity" for those years or merely clear its delinquent status?

You seem to be telling Brad that SDOG did not need to file an RFF-1 during those years because it was not yet a registered charitable trust, that the filings were merely in response to the AG making her "final determination" in 2014 that it was.

I believe you are trying to help out Cory here. But your position vis-à-vis Brad on this would constitute an admission that SDOG was an "unregistered entity" during years when it was filing lawsuits. The status of SDOG before the courts is at the heart of this whole affair. Your position would deny SDOG status. Are you sure that is what you want?

It seems to me that SDOG would be better off fessing up that it failed to file RFF-1s for those five years hoping that being merely delinquent is better than being an "unregistered entity". Can an unregistered entity have status in filing a lawsuit? You see the problem.

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Dorian Hargrove June 2, 2015 @ 3:19 p.m.

Mr. Flannery, thanks for the question. First, I am not trying to help Briggs out. The article started with the accusation that Briggs is not signing declarations. It then addressed a claim that SDOG did not file state and federal paperwork for five years. According to the AG website, SDOG did register, after AG contacted them about its "charitable trust" status. Then two years later the determination was made they are a "charitable trust." After that, the fees and the RFF's were filed to come into compliance with the Attorney General's designation.

As for the issue of standing, I agree that is a larger legal question, one I am sure Briggs will have to answer in court, and one that Goldsmith will undoubtedly raise. That is for a judge to decide.

Again, the article was not about the issue of standing but was about whether claims that SDOG did not file paperwork for five years was accurate. It is not. It did in 2011 and then again in 2014. If this issue over paperwork means they have not had standing in these cases, then that will be covered by media outlets, including this one. Thanks for the comment. -dH

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patflannery June 2, 2015 @ 4:47 p.m.

So, your reading of the AG's website is that SDOG was not a registered charitable trust until 2014 and therefore did not need to file RFFs until then and how that five-year suspension might affect SDOG's standing in court during that time is a matter for a judge.

You are right, you are not trying to help Cory.

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Dorian Hargrove June 2, 2015 @ 5:57 p.m.

That's interesting. My reading is that the AG requested documents from SDOG because they "may" be a charitable trust. That "may" was determined to be an "is" in March 2014 and was then rectified. There was no mention of any suspension, not from the documents listed on the AG's website.

And yes, I am not trying to help anyone. I am doing my job. If you disagree with what I reported then I suggest you go back and reread iNewsource's account, rather accounts plural, to make you feel better. Thanks. -dH

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monaghan June 2, 2015 @ 7:31 p.m.

Well said, Dorian. I appreciate that you are so open with readers and have the courage to stand for independent journalism, in contrast to the disgraceful Brad Racino of inewsource out of SDSU. Also, last time I checked, Pat Flannery was a realtor, neither a lawyer nor a journalist. But like many Irishmen, he likes to pick a fight.

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WhoIsWatchingTheWatchers June 2, 2015 @ 8:06 p.m.

Mr. Flannery's confusion is understandable. Judging by the harsh criticism Mr. Racino got in comments, most of us regular people were confused by his post last Thursday. You have to click on the attorney general's website and go to the bottom link to see her office had the registration since 2011. I wonder why Mr. Racino didnt ask the general why she was still asking in 2013/2014 for something she had since 2011 on her website no less. If he did he should have explained the results in his story.

To me Mr. Hargrove, it looks like the general's office was mistaken about its paperwork, finally figured it out (with or without Mr. Briggs help), then Briggs turned in everything within a few days of things getting fixed. That's not much of a story. Maybe Mr. Racino is so defensive about his reporting because he doesn't want to admit he made a mistake despite all the time he had to spend. He seems to have a lot riding on taking down Briggs.

Since Mr. Racino also works for KPBS, is his pay public information? Does he get a bonus if he takes down Mr. Briggs?

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patflannery June 3, 2015 @ 12:36 a.m.

Sometimes we the public have to try to figure out the truth from two different reports of the same set of facts by two competing news organizations. This is one of them. It is difficult in such circumstances to avoid the appearance of wanting to get into the fight between the news organizations. That is not my intention here. My only motivation is to try to understand this important public matter.

Thank you for your welcome clarifications but I am still troubled by the AG’s March 27, 2014 letter to SDOG which said in part:

“The captioned entity is now registered with the Registry of Charitable Trusts and has been assigned the registration (“CT”) number set forth above. Because the captioned entity has been operating as an unregistered entity in California in previous fiscal years, it is delinquent in filing reports with the Registry of Charitable Trusts. In order to complete the Registry file and clear the delinquent status, please submit the following, together with a copy of this letter.”

That seems clear enough. Its CT File Number CT02051 did not become effective until that date. The question for me therefore is not whether SDOG is blameworthy in not filing annual RFFs, which is the subject of the fight between you and Brad, but rather SDOG’s status as a charitable entity at a time when it filed certain lawsuits claiming to be such.

This question is far greater than whether you, Brad or even the AG is at fault here. If a court subsequently rules that SDOG did not have standing to file certain lawsuits, irrespective of who is at fault, then some very important public issues may be in jeopardy, the Convention Center for example.

Any clarification you or Brad, with the far greater investigative resources available to you than to a member of the public, irrespective of motives, can bring to our understanding of this difficult public issue would be greatly appreciated. We are all united on one thing: we all care about and love our wonderful city of San Diego.

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Ollie_Holmes June 3, 2015 @ 3:21 p.m.

Quite the paradox! Mr. Racino wants us to believe we cannot trust Mr. Briggs because of issues with his nonprofit status and failure to file financial documents. But that would mean we cannot trust Mr. Racino, as the California Attorney General says iNewsource is a delinquent charity, and has not reported its taxes since 2012: http://www.sandiegoreader.com/users/p...

And it was recently brought to my attention that many appearances Mr. Goldsmith made with the court did not present himself as bald, though he actually is, but in fact wearing a "toupee." There are many appearances in the court's file purportedly of him with hair that appears to be the hair of someone other than himself!

Fact is, since its founding in 2009, iNewsource has never submitted to the Registrar of Charitable Trusts a complete Schedule of Contributors from their tax filings with the IRS. Beyond its obvious yellow journalism on behalf of our city attorney, the public could better judge how ambulance-chasing and bald-faced are its motives if they could follow the money.

Check the IRS Form 990 filings for "Investigative Newsource" at http://rct.doj.ca.gov/ and see for yourselves. Apparently, the California Attorney General has been wanting to know who's giving them money as well (the "Miscellaneous Document," dated 8/30/2011).

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Ollie_Holmes June 3, 2015 @ 4:06 p.m.

Slight correction to the third paragraph (was timed out): iNewsource has never submitted to THE PUBLIC a complete Schedule of Contributors from their tax filings with the IRS. Despite their supposed fetish for transparency, they do not include this information, which would be attached as Schedule B, in the IRS Form 990 filings on their website, http://inewsource.org/about/.

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monaghan June 5, 2015 @ 2:18 p.m.

Oh my god, say it isn't so! City Attorney Goldsmith represents himself publicly as hirsute, when in fact he is bald? He disguises his true appearance with false hair? Surely that's illegal! Who will indict this prosecutor? Maybe the hapless innocent Chalker could be enlisted -- perhaps he's gone to law school since he was tried a few years ago by Goldsmith for drawing in colored chalk on a public sidewalk outside Bank of America. He might be willing to take the case.

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patflannery June 4, 2015 @ 1:04 a.m.

Dorian, as you suggested I carefully checked back over both yours and Mr. Racino’s reports on this and note that your differences seem to focus around Ian Trowbridge’s initial filing for charitable trust status which was stamped received by the AG’s office back on July 5, 2011. Somehow a second SDOG “initial filing for charitable trust status” became necessary and was marked received by the AG’s office March 10, 2014. Nobody seems to be able to explain what happened in between. Did the AG’s office simply lose the one it received on July 5, 2011? It certainly never referred to it again.

The dispute between you and Brad Racino seems to arise out of different interpretations of this.

You wrote “Regarding San Diegans for Open Government, the news organization claimed the nonprofit skirted a requirement to register the group as a charitable trust with California's attorney general.” You quoted Mr. Racino: "Although it formed in 2008, San Diegans for Open Government did not provide the state attorney general’s charities division with five years’ worth of state or federal filings until April 2014, after the division threatened to revoke the group’s tax-exempt status".

You then challenged Mr. Racino on that by writing “Documents filed with the attorney general show otherwise.” That seems to have infuriated Mr. Racino.

I checked the bundle of AG documents published by Racino to see if he had deliberately not included the July 5, 2011 filing. He had included it. He just didn’t refer to it in the narrative of his report. He didn’t even refer to it in his sharp response to you. Instead he chose to highlight the documents dated April 4, 2014 by writing “Notice the stamps on the top right for all five year's (sic) worth of filings, received April 4, 2014.”

Racino wrote to you “I don't think we could have made it any easier.” I can only say that he could have made it a lot easier for this commenter if he had referred to and acknowledged that Ian Trowbridge had duly made the initial filing for charitable trust status and got a “received” by the AG’s office dated July 5, 2011. That is the vital part that was missing and caused the fight between you reporters.

Sometimes we commenters have to get into the fight ourselves to figure out the truth.

2

earthysara June 4, 2015 @ 10:26 a.m.

Such selective reporting to bolster a narrative is more akin to political campaign smearing than investigative journalism.

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monaghan June 5, 2015 @ 2:07 p.m.

I take back any previous dismissive remark I may have made about Pat Flannery. Like many Irishmen, Flannery is articulate, committed to the truth and relentless in its pursuit. He has run down the facts and points out how cavalierly inewsource's Racino treats them. But we must remember that Brad Racino is on a paid mission --20 stories thus far -- trying to smear environmental lawyer Cory Briggs.

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Sjtorres June 4, 2015 @ 10:41 a.m.

So tell me why Briggs is dropping lawsuits, and why a Judge basically told him he had the right to remain silent?

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WhoIsWatchingTheWatchers June 4, 2015 @ 11:56 a.m.

I read that the dropped law suit is being added to a new law suit that deals with the same issues plus some recent new bad stuff.

If you read the hearing transcript, it appears the judge saw Mr. Briggs being criminally accused by the prosecutor abusing his power in a civil proceeding and was protecting Mr. Briggs. The judge complimented Mr. Briggs a few times even.

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patflannery June 4, 2015 @ 5:48 p.m.

Where did you read that explanation about why Briggs had dropped the Business Improvement Districts lawsuit? That is an important piece of additional news in our understanding of all this. Who is reporting that?

iNewsource reported that Briggs withdrew it out of fear of Judge Pollack who was trying the case. But from my reading of the transcript of last Friday's hearing on the separate Convention Centre expansion case, where Judge Pollack ruled in favor of SDOG's legal capacity and granted Briggs most of his attorney's fees, even praising him as you pointed out (you too must have read the entire transcript) this alternative explanation you have read sounds interesting. Please provide us with a link.

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WhoIsWatchingTheWatchers June 4, 2015 @ 9:39 p.m.

Mr./Ms. Flannery, I read the explanation at sandiegans4opengov.wordpress.com. You have to scroll down through a couple newer posts to get to the explanation. It was within the last 4 or 5 days that I saw it. I found it very interesting that it was posted several days before the latest inewsource story but was never mentioned in it, like inewsource was intentionally not wanting to report the real reasons for dismissal.

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patflannery June 5, 2015 @ 2:16 a.m.

Thanks for the link, WhoIsWatchingTheWatchers. It is from SDOG's own web site and posted Saturday May 30. Here is the relevant paragraph:

"Because the City already spent the illegal BID taxes it levied and collected for FY 2013-14, today SDOG’s board also voted to dismiss a pending lawsuit challenging those taxes. The dismissal was without prejudice, meaning those legal issues may still be pursued in the future. The new lawsuit will cover the same issues and more, including the advisors’ conflicts of interest, and will be filed in the next few weeks."

You say: “it was posted several days before the latest iNewsource story but was never mentioned in it, like iNewsource was intentionally not wanting to report the real reasons for dismissal”. You are right, it was posted Saturday May 30 while the iNewsource story was posted the following Wednesday June 3.

A reasonable assumption must be that iNewsource was aware of it because they said they had tried to get an interview with Mr. Briggs before publishing their story. Surely they would have checked SDOG’s web site, the subject of their report, before publishing.

The fact that an alternative explanation to the damaging one they published, was available from the subject’s website but not reported, damages iNewsource's credibility in attributing SDOG's withdrawal of its lawsuit against the City to fear of Judge Pollack and not mentioning its legal strategy outlined on the plaintiff’s web site.

I must however compliment iNewsource on providing us with links and copies of just about every other document relevant to their reports. In that area they do an excellent job because without those source documents we the public would not be able to follow this story as closely as we can.

But thank you Mr./Ms. WhoIsWatchingTheWatchers (I’m a Mr. btw) for the link to that important post on SDOG’s web site. Too bad iNewsource did not provide it for balance.

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