Bruce Henderson
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Thirty deputy city attorneys were terminated August 31, although some were apparently hired back. Bruce Henderson, one of those separated, believes his firing "was the result of discrimination against me based on my age (74), my race (white), and my gender (male)." He believes that most, if not all of those dropped, were older white males.

Those booted off the payroll were provisional employees who already have retirement benefits from the city, so it stands to reason that they are older. Henderson gets retirement benefits, having served on the city council from 1987 through 1991. He suspects that the mass sacking may have been one way to deal with wage disparities impacting female employees.

Gerry Braun, spokesman for the city attorney's office, says, "We are reviewing his complaint." Henderson filed it with Human Relations and Risk Management departments.

Henderson points out that the city charter states that no deputy city attorney who has served continuously for at least a year "shall be terminated or suspended without good cause." Henderson has been a deputy city attorney for more than ten years.

There are exceptions — a lack of work or budgetary constraints. But Henderson says there is plenty of work, and the office is hiring many new employees, particularly some under 30 years of age. The budget will rise from $46.1 million in fiscal 2017 to $49.7 million in fiscal 2018.

Henderson believes his firing is a violation of the city charter, but he says he won't file suit until he gets a response to his complaint.

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Comments

JustWondering Sept. 5, 2017 @ 7:37 p.m.

According to TransparentCalifornia.com Henderson is collecting his City pension and Deputy City Attorney salary simultaneous. He must have only been working a few hours each pay period as his attorney salary over the past several years only crossed the 25K threshold once, and that was in 2011. That equates to about 20 hours a month. His pension is less than $9,500 a year.

Heck, Don, maybe Henderson is like you, never wants to stop producing. But I thought you frowned on government double dippers?

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Don Bauder Sept. 5, 2017 @ 8:56 p.m.

JustWondering: As he says in his complaint, Henderson while working was limited to 720 hours a year. That is a major reason that his pay only crossed $25,000 a year once in his ten-year-plus span. His pension seems modest, even if it includes a pension for his work with the city attorney, as TransparentCalifornia.com says.

If Henderson was a double-dipper, his dipper was a very little dipper, hardly a big one. I know that Bruce enjoyed working, enjoyed going into court. He says it will be difficult to go back into private sector law at his age (74). Best, Don Bauder

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JustWondering Sept. 6, 2017 @ 7:13 a.m.

After reading Mr. Henderson's complaint (which wasn't done before my first comment above) I understand the situation better.

Under state law Mr. Henderson is certainly entitled to unemployment benefits, yet the 2016 City Council has adopted a discriminatory ordinance which prohibits it by precluding future employment by a well qualified person.

If Henderson brings a legal suit, rather than the complaint filed here and with the City's Risk Managemnt unit, I suspect he would ultimately prevail and the ordinance would be nullified. It may take the 10 years he wanted to work however.

There lies the problem. Do you bite the hand that feeds you?

Mr. Henderson says he wants or expects to work for another 10 years. He is also constrained, as a "provisional" employee to no more than 720 hours per year by a separate ordinance. And, he is precluded from the practice of law outside of the City Attorney's office by yet another regulation. His claim of discrimination based on his age, sex and race - old white guy - versus newly hired - young inexperience baby attorneys - has legs in my opinion.

Maybe our new elected City Attorney Ms. Eliott should take notice and avoid the unnecessary litigation, negative press and costs to the taxpayers this claim will generate. Probably why he got you to write a story about a claim no one, in the general public, would ever know anything about. As a lawyer and recovering politician Mr. Henderson certainly has the knowledge and experience on how to handle his claim effectively.

Sadly all of this seems to be unnecessary, but we haven't heard Ms. Elliott's side. I'm just wondering if she will shed some light on her decisions and actions in this matter? One thing we do know, Mr. Henderson had not received any negative criticism regarding his work product from his superiors.

If he is correct, and this is about wage disparity and age discrimination I wish Mr. Henderson, and others affected by these terminations, success in this thoughtful claim against the City of San Diego.

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Don Bauder Sept. 6, 2017 @ 7:53 a.m.

JustWondering: We only have a short comment by Gerry Braun, who handles PR for the city attorney's office. As Braun says, the office will study the complaint. I suspect Elliott and her minions will swallow hard when they contemplate what this complaint means. It will be interesting to see if other senior deputy city attorneys who got laid off will follow Henderson's lead. Best, Don Bauder

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AlexClarke Sept. 6, 2017 @ 6:52 a.m.

Double dipping is a misnomer. It is not double dipping if you are collecting an earned pension benefit and collecting pay for work performed. Double dipping would be getting paid twice for the same work or collecting two pensions for the same work. A friend of mine earned a pension from three different companies. While he collected the three earned pensions he was also collecting Social Security and he went to work collecting pay for each hour worked.

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JustWondering Sept. 6, 2017 @ 7:50 a.m.

As defined by "your dictionary": Double dipping is defined as the act of getting compensation from two divisions of the same employer or putting food into a dip for a second time after it has already been bitten. An example of double dipping is to receive a pension as a retired military officer while working for the government as a civilian.

While it may be a misnomer, double dipping, getting a pension and a concurrent salary from the city is frowned upon by many, and a commonly accepted terminology in today's context. The city actually has an Ordinace which limits those who receive a pension from collecting more than 720 hours of pay even when there is more than sufficient money and work available. There also is a carve out exception for politicians, and it was exploited by former Mayor Sanders, who at one point collected his full and substantial pension and Mayoral salary simultaneously.

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Don Bauder Sept. 6, 2017 @ 7:58 a.m.

JustWondering: Yes, Henderson was following the law in this case, only working 720 hours a year. Best, Don Bauder

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petezanko Sept. 6, 2017 @ 8:40 a.m.

So basically he's not pulling his weight around the office. It appears to me he's dead wood, so it's a benefit to me, the taxpaying local resident, to get him out of there and find a more productive employee. His whining about white identity politics is typical of bitter people who would rather blame anyone but themselves for their shortcomings, and disgusting to boot considering the painful effects Bitter White Man Syndrome has had on our national discourse. It's too bad a sympathetic reporter swallowed it and gave him a platform, without confirming whether there was any sign of discrimination. To wit: "He BELIEVES that most, if not all, were older white males." That's one heck of an accusation and irresponsible to reproduce without checking on the other 29 attorneys. Any females on the list? Racial or ethnic minorities? How many were hired back, for what salary/benefit adjustments, and who were they? We don't know, because the reporter apparently didn't check. No evidence offered, just one bitter man's "belief." I would like to know more about this story, if only to see how Elliott's administration is differing from Goldsmith's. I hope the Reader puts a real reporter on it.

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JustWondering Sept. 6, 2017 @ 9:03 a.m.

I disagree with some of your supposition. Working in the criminal division of the City Attorney's office is typically a high stress, based upon the number of cases alone you're required to handle. Considering cases are typically first handed to you an hour or so proceeding to court, you have to think on your feet. To have a 10 year tenure, some with Aguirre and the majority with Goldsmith, suggests competent practice of law.
The criminal division is known as a mill, where young lawyers gain courtroom experience, mentoring by peers and judges before moving on to more complex jobs in the law. By remaining in the criminal division for ten plus years, with no known negative evaluations by his superiors, reveals plenty of this old white guy's competence and character.

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Don Bauder Sept. 6, 2017 @ 10:57 a.m.

JustWondering: Yes, I would not belittle those jobs he handled in the city attorney's office. Yes, you are right: Henderson was initially hired by Aguirre. Then Aguirre's successor, an establishment lackey, kept Henderson on, to everybody's surprise. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Sept. 6, 2017 @ 10:50 a.m.

petezanko: Henderson was more than pulling his weight. As an experienced lawyer with excellent credentials (Harvard undergrad, UCal Berkeley law school), and a reputation as an astute lawyer, he was saving taxpayers money because he was much better than the others at his task.

I will give you one poignant example. Back in the mid-1990s, Henderson studied the contract the Chargers were making with the city. He stated with amazing prescience that this deal was a route out of town for the Chargers. He was criticized heatedly by the city. I wrote his opinion in the San Diego Union, and I took heat. But he was right -- 22 years before it happened. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Sept. 10, 2017 @ 8:36 a.m.

petezanko: Unintentionally, I didn't answer the second part of your post, which was the assertion that I am an incompetent journalist who should have dug into the subject more thoroughly. As I recall, you told me over the phone one time that you had worked for the U-T. If so, I'm surprised you don't realize that newspapers and magazines have brief items that may be one to ten paragraphs long. In such briefs, the reporter doesn't try to cover every base. He or she makes the decision whether the item is worth long treatment. If not, the item is run in brief. On the internet, speed is often a factor.

The Henderson item was somewhat longer than most of our briefs, or blog items, but not the kind of item that requires a ton of research, at least at the time it was written. We gave it six paragraphs and ran his complaint. That was sufficient when it first came out. Later, we may expand on it, but at this point I doubt it.

You will see heavy research in my columns that run every two weeks, both in print and online.

Sometimes speed is a factor; an item is covered in brief to beat the competition. If it is something that would also make a good column, then heavy research begins.

When I was younger, I spent a lot of time on TV. There, almost everything is a brief item, but some stories lend themselves to deep coverage at a later time. Or there may be an ongoing story, such as the Chargers' controversy and decision to depart. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Sept. 6, 2017 @ 7:57 a.m.

AlexClarke: I wouldn't call this double-dipping. Henderson was doing good work in his second job with the city. He had been a council member and then was doing work for the city attorney's office. These are totally different tasks. Best, Don Bauder

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JustWondering Sept. 6, 2017 @ 8:35 a.m.

Was he doing other tasks in the City Attorney's office other than prosecuting misdemeanors? Typically, and from my experience, criminal misdemeanors are handled by inexperienced young attorneys looking to gain courtroom experience, and mentoring by judges along the way. Being an experienced politician, as well as an experienced attorney I would have thought he'd be working on other more complex matters. But I can understand how that might not be the case with the 720 hour limitation for provisional employees.

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Don Bauder Sept. 6, 2017 @ 10:58 a.m.

JustWondering: For awhile he did work for the DA's office. That is in the complaint. Best, Don Bauder

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JustWondering Sept. 6, 2017 @ 1:50 p.m.

By charter in the City of San Diego, all criminal misdemeanors are handled by the City Attorney's office, while felonies are prosecuted by the County District Attorney. Henderson's complaint mentions cross deputizing with the DA's office to handle City of Poway misdemeanor crimes. I suspect this arrangement was done for convenience and economy of scale. With the growth in San Diego County mainly north of the I-8 it makes perfect sense.

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Don Bauder Sept. 6, 2017 @ 7:22 p.m.

JustWondering: Yes, it made sense. Best, Don Bauder

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Visduh Sept. 6, 2017 @ 8:31 a.m.

There's one matter that hasn't been covered. With all the vilification he suffered, how was it that he was hired? City government spent huge amounts of effort and plenty of treasure to pull off those stadium shenanigans, and he was the loudest and most effective opponent. And yet, there he was, toiling in the city attorney's office. Who hired him? Witt? Gwinn? Aguirre? Goldsmith? I cannot imagine any one other than Mike Aguirre putting him on city staff. It is hard to imagine the Goldy kept him on staff through two terms; that guy did enough foolish things that one more foolish termination would have been inconsequential. Well, maybe he just didn't want the bad publicity.

Yes, it will be interesting to learn of the reasoning that led to this many layoffs. If they are all part-timers, it might be a desire to cut down on the numbers of people requiring supervision, and to bring on more career deputies on board. However, if that city ordinance prohibits layoffs, and certainly mass layoffs, then it was illegal. Can't the city attorney read the law?

Isn't it rather ironic that now that Henderson's claims and concerns have been vindicated, he's lost his remaining job? If he had played along with the power elite in San Diego, he might have had a long career on the council and/or other elective office. As it was, he did the right thing and apparently suffered for it, and still suffers for it. Another damning indictment of city corruption and mis-governance.

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JustWondering Sept. 6, 2017 @ 8:47 a.m.

Hire by Aguirre according to his written complaint. Personally I too was surprised by his tenure in the office, especially as a provisional employee. But that alone speaks positively about his level of competence. The criminal division of the City Attorney's has a reputation of being a mill due the the number of cases, lowest pay leading to high turnover. Typically it's where new attorneys go to get courtroom and trial experience before moving on to more challenging work.

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Don Bauder Sept. 6, 2017 @ 11:03 a.m.

JustWondering: Agreed. It's my understanding that the judges appreciated Henderson, because he knew his way around courtrooms. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Sept. 6, 2017 @ 11:01 a.m.

Visduh: Aguirre hired him, and Goldsmith kept him on, to everybody's surprise. Henderson was vilified for being absolutely right. He read that Chargers/San Diego contract and saw, quite correctly, that it was a highway out of town for the team. I can remember Susan Golding belittling him for that. Remember those who criticized him: he saw what was happening and tried to stop it. Best, Don Bauder

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martygraham619 Sept. 6, 2017 @ 12:06 p.m.

I wonder if being employed by the city keeps him from suing the city, the way serving on a board means you can't sue the board. That would have been a sound investment by any city attorney - however cynical it is.

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Don Bauder Sept. 6, 2017 @ 1:06 p.m.

martygraham619: It's possible but doubtful that hiring him to keep him from suing the city was the motivation. Aguirre hired him; Goldsmith kept him on. It could have been in Goldsmith's mind.

Henderson filed multiple suits against the ballpark. The defendants then sued him for oversuing. The judge, hardly surprisingly, was blindly friendly to the plaintiffs, the establishment. In the end, Henderson had to pay the Padres $1, but as I recall, he had to handle his own legal fees. I believe he had help doing that, but he didn't file suit when the Chargers (as he had predicted) were plotting to scram out of town. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Sept. 6, 2017 @ 7:21 p.m.

Thomas Weller: Yes, Henderson suffered for being right for opposing taxpayer subsidization of billionaire pro team owners. Some others took a lot of heat, too -- I was one of them, particularly inside the U-T. Best, Don Bauder

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Darren Sept. 11, 2017 @ 5:16 p.m.

Thanks Don for the article. The ultimate payback to all those that would profit from using taxpayers to subsidize wealthy sports owners, was the Chargers ultimately proved their franchise is purely a business model, that did not work in San Diego. Loyalty by owners to faithful fans was never a reality, just a myth San Diego news media liked to preach. It has been very refreshing since the Chargers left, not to hear/watch all the news outlets fearing us that if we didn't support a new Chargers stadium, they might leave and San Diego would drop-off into the Pacific Ocean. We've survived very well since their departure. Take care...

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Don Bauder Sept. 11, 2017 @ 10:30 p.m.

Darren: We still don't know if the Chargers will thrive in LA. After all, two teams, the Rams and Raiders, departed LA in the mid-1990s for lack of fan support, and in the case of the Rams, lack of government support (wisely) to build the team a stadium. The Chargers got no fan support when they played their first season there. Best, Don Bauder

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