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Goldsmith loses, Briggs wins

Attorney to be paid $107,000 for fees in email case

Cory Briggs
Cory Briggs

The legal fight over city-related emails that former San Diego city attorney Jan Goldsmith sent over his private server during his time in public office has concluded, almost three years to the date that watchdog group San Diegans for Open Government filed its lawsuit.

On Friday, January 20, San Diego Superior Court judge Timothy Taylor rejected the city's second and final attempt to impose sanctions on opposing counsel, Cory Briggs, for bringing forth what they claim was a frivolous lawsuit. Taylor's decision puts an end to litigation and forces the city to pay Briggs over $100,000 in legal fees — this in addition to the $150,000 the city spent to hire outside counsel as well as the hundreds of hours in-house attorneys devoted to it.

The Case

Briggs, on behalf of San Diegans for Open Government, filed the lawsuit on January 28, 2014, alleging Goldsmith and his office refused to turn over city emails he sent to reporters and others from his private email account. The city attorney's office denied Briggs's request despite the fact that they had previously released some of the emails to the Reader and NBC San Diego.

A legal fight ensued. The city responded to the lawsuit, claiming (among other arguments) that speaking to reporters did not "relate in any way to the duties and obligations" of the city attorney. In response, Briggs filed an amended complaint that accused then–city attorney Goldsmith of wasting taxpayer money by communicating with the media during working hours. The city hired attorney Jacqueline Vinaccia to help fight the taxpayer-waste claim. Briggs later agreed to drop the claim; Goldsmith and his office, however, did not drop it.

Instead they filed papers requesting that a judge impose sanctions — in the amount of $55,772 — on Briggs for filing a frivolous claim. An appellate court later remanded the sanctions issue back to superior court. On January 20, Taylor issued the final ruling.

Taylor's Decision

"...Defendants provide no evidence demonstrating that a useless expenditure of public funds did not actually take place," wrote Taylor in a tentative ruling later made final.

Later he added, "this motion focuses on attacking the motives of [Briggs].... [T]he allegations in the taxpayer waste cause of action were supported by a factual investigation conducted by [San Diegans for Open Government's] counsel's office, anonymous whistleblower tips, and consultations that counsel had with unnamed individuals. Taken as a whole, this lawsuit had objective merit. [Briggs] dismissed the taxpayer waste cause of action in light of conversations that he had with [outside counsel Jacqueline Vinaccia].... As such, there was sufficient evidentiary support for the allegations in [the] taxpayer waste cause of action."

Taylor lifted the temporary stay that prevented Briggs from collecting his attorney fees, thus ending the case.

The city must now pay Briggs over $107,000 in legal fees.

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Cory Briggs
Cory Briggs

The legal fight over city-related emails that former San Diego city attorney Jan Goldsmith sent over his private server during his time in public office has concluded, almost three years to the date that watchdog group San Diegans for Open Government filed its lawsuit.

On Friday, January 20, San Diego Superior Court judge Timothy Taylor rejected the city's second and final attempt to impose sanctions on opposing counsel, Cory Briggs, for bringing forth what they claim was a frivolous lawsuit. Taylor's decision puts an end to litigation and forces the city to pay Briggs over $100,000 in legal fees — this in addition to the $150,000 the city spent to hire outside counsel as well as the hundreds of hours in-house attorneys devoted to it.

The Case

Briggs, on behalf of San Diegans for Open Government, filed the lawsuit on January 28, 2014, alleging Goldsmith and his office refused to turn over city emails he sent to reporters and others from his private email account. The city attorney's office denied Briggs's request despite the fact that they had previously released some of the emails to the Reader and NBC San Diego.

A legal fight ensued. The city responded to the lawsuit, claiming (among other arguments) that speaking to reporters did not "relate in any way to the duties and obligations" of the city attorney. In response, Briggs filed an amended complaint that accused then–city attorney Goldsmith of wasting taxpayer money by communicating with the media during working hours. The city hired attorney Jacqueline Vinaccia to help fight the taxpayer-waste claim. Briggs later agreed to drop the claim; Goldsmith and his office, however, did not drop it.

Instead they filed papers requesting that a judge impose sanctions — in the amount of $55,772 — on Briggs for filing a frivolous claim. An appellate court later remanded the sanctions issue back to superior court. On January 20, Taylor issued the final ruling.

Taylor's Decision

"...Defendants provide no evidence demonstrating that a useless expenditure of public funds did not actually take place," wrote Taylor in a tentative ruling later made final.

Later he added, "this motion focuses on attacking the motives of [Briggs].... [T]he allegations in the taxpayer waste cause of action were supported by a factual investigation conducted by [San Diegans for Open Government's] counsel's office, anonymous whistleblower tips, and consultations that counsel had with unnamed individuals. Taken as a whole, this lawsuit had objective merit. [Briggs] dismissed the taxpayer waste cause of action in light of conversations that he had with [outside counsel Jacqueline Vinaccia].... As such, there was sufficient evidentiary support for the allegations in [the] taxpayer waste cause of action."

Taylor lifted the temporary stay that prevented Briggs from collecting his attorney fees, thus ending the case.

The city must now pay Briggs over $107,000 in legal fees.

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Comments
10

I almost wish Jackass Jan were still in office, if only so we could see him simmer with rage at being outwitted and outlawyered once again.

We need to add up all the money Goldsmith cost taxpayers filing lawsuits that actually were frivolous and make him pay it all back.

Jan. 21, 2017

When egos run a case this is a typical result. Especially when your ego is paid with someone else's money.

Jan. 21, 2017

We need to remember that Jan doesn't pay the hundred grand. The city (tax-paying residents of the city) pays it. There's no way to recover it from him. But the scary part is that were it not for term limits, the jerk might have run for a third term and won. Local voters don't pay attention. Just look at Dumanis, the worst excuse of a DA in memory is in her fourth term. It looks as if she's going to bow out at the end, or before, and not run again. So, don't tell me local voters understand what's going on, how it affects them, and that they do have a choice.

Jan. 21, 2017

I think Teflon Bonnie "retires" before her term ends, but only if the BoS agree to name Summer Stephan acting DA (Teflon Bonnie's hand-picked successor). That would also give Stephan the advantage as running for DA as the current, acting DA (the incumbent advantage).

Jan. 21, 2017

What you describe is a favorite way of filling vacancies on city councils and school boards here in the county. They made a move like that when Bill "Keystone Kop" Kolender had to be replaced as sheriff. That's why we now have Gore who, while not K's handpicked successor, was the drug of choice for the BofS.

No, I think you have it nailed, aardvark, and you can go on record (with me at least) for your prediction.

Jan. 21, 2017

Are you and aardvark implying that San Diego City/County politics are rigged? Oh no! Say it ain't so!

Jan. 22, 2017

Not implying a thing. Allegedly.

Jan. 23, 2017

Are you and aardvark implying that San Diego City/County politics are rigged? Oh no! Say it ain't so!

Jan. 22, 2017

Where will Goldsmith surface next? It will be interesting. Without the Reader, we would never find out. Thank you Dorian, for letting the rest of us know.

Jan. 22, 2017

As hipster, it's my duty to point out the irony:

$107,000 in public funds owed to the att'y suing over wasted taxpayer dollars (the plaintiff gets nothing, since it's not even a person), and not a single judgment to be found beyond the ruling on sanctions.

lol — city's a hundred grand broker and nobody knows anything more than they did before

Jan. 23, 2017

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