A lawsuit challenging San Diego's Tourism Marketing District and the levy hoteliers charge tourists to pay to promote San Diego will move forward on November 6 in San Diego Superior Court.
Today (October 27), Superior Court judge Joel Wohlfeil denied a last-minute attempt by the Tourism Marketing District to subpoena San Diegans for Open Government's attorney, Cory Briggs, in hopes of discovering that the group does not have standing, nor does it have any valid members.
Judge Wohlfeil denied the district's motion, setting the stage for the first of two trials to begin on November 6. The preliminary trial will address whether the nonprofit group has proper standing to sue the district.
At stake is hundreds of millions of dollars that hoteliers are expected to collect during the district's 39.5-year contract it entered into with the City of San Diego.
Briggs filed the lawsuit on behalf of San Diegans for Open Government in December 2012. The group says the levy is essentially an illegal tax that hoteliers, with local politicians’ blessings, enacted without a two-thirds vote, as required by the California constitution as well as Propositions 13 and 218, which were drafted to prevent local municipalities and agencies from enacting special taxes without two-thirds approval.
In the nearly three years since the lawsuit was filed, the hoteliers and Briggs have been at war. Hoteliers, with the help of city attorney Jan Goldsmith, tried to prove that there is no San Diegans for Open Government and the lawsuits are filed by Briggs with the intent to line his pockets. In doing so, attorneys for the hoteliers have been accused of leaking testimony from sealed court depositions to media outlets as a way to cast doubt on Briggs’s business practices, the nonprofit he represents, as well as conflict-of-interest issues with his wife's former employer.
In March of this year, Sacramento-based attorney Michael Colantuono filed a court motion to take possession of a computer from the partner of San Diegans for Open Government's founder, Ian Trowbridge, who died in 2013. Colantuono suggested that a forensic analysis of the computer would reveal that membership forms filled out by certain members of the group were doctored after the lawsuit was filed. If true, the group would not have standing to sue.
But Wohlfeil didn't grant the motion. And no evidence of doctored membership forms was ever found.
The failures did not dissuade the hoteliers from filing a last-minute motion to retrieve the metadata for the forms from Briggs, and to depose him this Friday, October 30.
“The Motion of Defendant and Interested Party San Diego Tourism Marketing District Corporation to compel the Custodian of Records for the Briggs Law Corporation to comply with the Deposition Subpoena for Production of Documents (‘Business Records Subpoena’) served on it and to produce without objections the documents or electronically stored information, is denied...," reads Wohlfiel's October 26 tentative ruling.
"However, the Court is mindful that Defendant has undertaken exhaustive efforts to discover the metadata establishing the date when the San Diegans for Open Government (‘SDOG’) membership application form (‘Blank Membership Application’) was first created….”
According to the court's website, the trial will begin at 8:30 a.m. on November 6 in Department 73 at the downtown courthouse.
(revised 11/5, 1:45 p.m.)