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.
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.
"...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.