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.
"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."