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Ex-councilmember Frye sniffs conflict, sues city

Resolution agreement with city attorney Mara Elliott fell flat, that's why

San Diego City Council chambers
San Diego City Council chambers

In a newly filed lawsuit, former San Diego city councilmember Donna Frye says the city has paved the way for large law firms to represent the city and its opponents in court without the public's awareness.

Donna Frye

At issue is San Diego's "Council Policy on Conflict of Interest Waivers."

In the past, law firms that have represented the city have been required to obtain a waiver from the city to represent parties that are also suing the city. While the firms are still required to obtain the waivers, a new council policy adopted in August allows those waivers to be issued without council approval and without public notification.

According to the new policy, the city council would vote on the waiver if the city attorney's office approaches them with the potential conflict or if four or more councilmembers request a hearing.

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In July of this year, one month before the council adopted the policy, Frye submitted a public records request asking to view the conflict-of-interest waivers.

Mara Elliott

The city responded to that request but left out certain waivers that Frye knew could present problems.

She alerted the city attorney's office prior to the council hearing the matter.

In a July 26 email to city attorney Mara Elliott, Frye wrote "there is no reason that the authority to review and approve should be delegated…. I am requesting that any and all conflict of interest waivers be heard by the full council and that the authority to do so not be delegated to the office of the mayor.

"The council as a legislative body represents the public and when you delegate your authority, the public’s right to know what our elected officials are doing and why you are doing it is also delegated. In other words, you are limiting our ability to participate and have shown no reason why this is necessary."

Michael Colantuono

Frye did not receive a response. On August 25 she wrote another letter. Elliott called her a few days later. In an August 30 email, Elliott agreed to look into other options.

"I think we discussed some good potential solutions," wrote Elliott. "I’ll do some research on my end and circle back as soon as possible. In the meantime, the City agrees to toll the statute of limitations through October 31, 2017, so that we can continue to work together on this."

Frye and Elliott were unable to reach an agreement. In her lawsuit, Frye included examples of large firms that have asked for waivers publicly in the past. Among the firms to have asked to waiver potential conflicts of interest include Colantuono Highsmith and Whatley.

Jan Goldsmith

The city has awarded that firm numerous contracts in recent years. Most recently, on October 24, the council awarded Colantuono Highsmith and Whatley $300,000 to defend it in a lawsuit that San Diego Unified filed against the city and county for failing to allocate redevelopment funds.

Other firms to have asked for waivers include Procopio; also, Cory, Hargreaves, and Savitch, the second-largest law firm in the city and now employer of former city attorney Jan Goldsmith.

Latham and Watkins, another firm to obtain waivers, has represented the city in the past and now represents SoccerCity developers who want to redevelop the former Qualcomm Stadium site to include a new soccer stadium.

Said Frye via email, "I believe the action taken by the city council majority (with Alvarez, Gomez and Ward opposed) violates City Charter Section 216.1 because they made no findings stating the interest to be protected by delegating the authority to the mayor and city attorney to execute future waivers on the City’s behalf.

"The new policy ignores the will of the voters when they approved City Charter Section 216.1 in 2004 that says in part: 'A statute, court rule or other authority adopted after the effective date of this Section that limits the right of access shall be adopted with findings demonstrating the interest protected by the limitation and the need for protecting that interest.'

"Public disclosure of who is receiving waivers to the City’s conflict of interest laws is important and necessary because the public has a right to hear, be informed and participate in decisions about why a conflict of interest waiver is justified. That would be satisfied by public deliberation of the issues involved."

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San Diego City Council chambers
San Diego City Council chambers

In a newly filed lawsuit, former San Diego city councilmember Donna Frye says the city has paved the way for large law firms to represent the city and its opponents in court without the public's awareness.

Donna Frye

At issue is San Diego's "Council Policy on Conflict of Interest Waivers."

In the past, law firms that have represented the city have been required to obtain a waiver from the city to represent parties that are also suing the city. While the firms are still required to obtain the waivers, a new council policy adopted in August allows those waivers to be issued without council approval and without public notification.

According to the new policy, the city council would vote on the waiver if the city attorney's office approaches them with the potential conflict or if four or more councilmembers request a hearing.

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Sponsored

In July of this year, one month before the council adopted the policy, Frye submitted a public records request asking to view the conflict-of-interest waivers.

Mara Elliott

The city responded to that request but left out certain waivers that Frye knew could present problems.

She alerted the city attorney's office prior to the council hearing the matter.

In a July 26 email to city attorney Mara Elliott, Frye wrote "there is no reason that the authority to review and approve should be delegated…. I am requesting that any and all conflict of interest waivers be heard by the full council and that the authority to do so not be delegated to the office of the mayor.

"The council as a legislative body represents the public and when you delegate your authority, the public’s right to know what our elected officials are doing and why you are doing it is also delegated. In other words, you are limiting our ability to participate and have shown no reason why this is necessary."

Michael Colantuono

Frye did not receive a response. On August 25 she wrote another letter. Elliott called her a few days later. In an August 30 email, Elliott agreed to look into other options.

"I think we discussed some good potential solutions," wrote Elliott. "I’ll do some research on my end and circle back as soon as possible. In the meantime, the City agrees to toll the statute of limitations through October 31, 2017, so that we can continue to work together on this."

Frye and Elliott were unable to reach an agreement. In her lawsuit, Frye included examples of large firms that have asked for waivers publicly in the past. Among the firms to have asked to waiver potential conflicts of interest include Colantuono Highsmith and Whatley.

Jan Goldsmith

The city has awarded that firm numerous contracts in recent years. Most recently, on October 24, the council awarded Colantuono Highsmith and Whatley $300,000 to defend it in a lawsuit that San Diego Unified filed against the city and county for failing to allocate redevelopment funds.

Other firms to have asked for waivers include Procopio; also, Cory, Hargreaves, and Savitch, the second-largest law firm in the city and now employer of former city attorney Jan Goldsmith.

Latham and Watkins, another firm to obtain waivers, has represented the city in the past and now represents SoccerCity developers who want to redevelop the former Qualcomm Stadium site to include a new soccer stadium.

Said Frye via email, "I believe the action taken by the city council majority (with Alvarez, Gomez and Ward opposed) violates City Charter Section 216.1 because they made no findings stating the interest to be protected by delegating the authority to the mayor and city attorney to execute future waivers on the City’s behalf.

"The new policy ignores the will of the voters when they approved City Charter Section 216.1 in 2004 that says in part: 'A statute, court rule or other authority adopted after the effective date of this Section that limits the right of access shall be adopted with findings demonstrating the interest protected by the limitation and the need for protecting that interest.'

"Public disclosure of who is receiving waivers to the City’s conflict of interest laws is important and necessary because the public has a right to hear, be informed and participate in decisions about why a conflict of interest waiver is justified. That would be satisfied by public deliberation of the issues involved."

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Comments
6

I can understand Kev-boy wanting the power to hire crony lawyers for fat fees, but shame on the city council for going along with him. Can only guess it's so they can beg off any responsibility when these things, as always, go south.

Cheers to Donna Frye: still doing more for the people of San Diego than those currently holding elected office.

Nov. 2, 2017

My name is Farhad Jampour Bastani. I am former employee of the City of San Diego who has been involved in multiple cases against the City as a pro se plaintiff. In general, Office of the City Attorney is a corrupt, dishonest and abusive office. During litigations, they frequently commit various shocking unlawful conducts such as Perjury, violation of state and federal penal codes, obstruction of justice, abuse of judicial process, harassment, concealment of material facts, causing willful delays, etc... Once in 2015, I even decided to sue Jan Goldsmith and declared this matter to the court... Office of the City Attorney even do not care about public interest... I was a whistle blower against the conduct of the city against "Public Records Act" and the City negligence against Public Safety which has resulted in severe injury to public, Office of the City attorney did whatever unlawful conducts they could to prevent my case being surfaced and addressed by the court... The deputy City Attorneys in the Office of the City Attorney are very well trained for "Fraudulent Concealment" and even committing unlawful obstruction of justice.... Even if a plaintiff is a pro se plaintiff against the City, there has been always risk of fraudulent fabrication of allegations by The Office of the City Attorney to prevent and threat pro se plaintiffs not to pursue their complaints.The subject matter of this article is not surprising to me at all... Office of the City Attorney is an abusive and mafia type office and should be reformed. They are against the public interest of the people of San Diego... I very well know that individuals such as Jan Goldsmith acted like he was above the law.

Nov. 3, 2017

Dorian... in the past 3 years, I have been in many meetings, court meetings and contacts with the Office of the City Attorney as a plaintiff... Behind the scene, they remind me of Done Corleone in God Father... Deputy City Attorneys and the City Attorney, easily commit outrageous unlawful conducts and violate the law with peace of mind... someone should sue them...someone should sue the City Attorney... they are against the public of San Diego and they should not have peace of mind in violating the law... unfortunately, they have peace of mind in violating the law.

Nov. 3, 2017

There's another angle on this. Why does the city need to be hiring so many outside law firms and attorneys? Can't the in-house staff cope with the load? And why is that so? When budget time rolls around, I'll bet the city attorney is in line for a big boost every year, and uses the workload to justify it. But then when a tough suit comes along, the office cannot handle it, and the city attorney goes out on the street for a law firm to do the work.

I had been hoping that this new city attorney would make a difference, and early on she made some rulings that finally made sense, or so I though. But now I wonder. SD city hall has people coming and going, yet some things there just never change.

Nov. 3, 2017

Gee, corruption in city government. Who knew?

Nov. 5, 2017

Farhad Jampour Bastani is nuttier than squirrel poo.

July 14, 2018

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