Tuesday, December 21, 2010

San Diego firefighter wins $424,000 from city in court

San Diego firefighter wins $424,000 from city in court
He claimed retaliation for exposing wrongdoing in San Diego fire department
By Craig Gustafson
December 20, 2010

San Diego firefighter Paul Vandeveld on the job during the 2007 Witch Creek Fire.

A jury has awarded $424,000 to a San Diego firefighter who said he was suspended and denied a promotion in retaliation for blowing the whistle on wrongdoing in the city’s fire department.

Paul Vandeveld, 44, of El Cajon, has worked in the department since 1990 but his career stalled four years ago after he tried to stop his fellow firefighters from harassing a colleague and aided then-City Attorney Michael Aguirre with his investigation into the city’s pension scandal.

He was suspended without pay for 96 hours for sending an e-mail to higher-ups about the harassment and was denied a promotion several times despite being on the department’s “next in line” list to become a captain.

Background: Paul Vandeveld, a San Diego firefighter, filed a whistle-blower lawsuit against the city in 2008 for suspending him and denying him a promotion in retaliation for helping a city attorney investigation into pension issues.

What’s changing: A jury awarded $424,000 to Vandeveld in a verdict Thursday, a majority of the sum represents what he would have made had he received a promotion to captain.

Future: The city is considering an appeal. Vandeveld, a 20-year department veteran, has asked to have the suspension removed from his record so he’ll be eligible for promotions in the future.

The 12-member jury’s unanimous decision called for Vandeveld to receive the difference between what he would have made as a captain versus his current salary as a fire engineer. The jury also awarded him $60,000 in punitive damages and the lost pay from his suspension.

Vandeveld burst into tears when the verdict was announced Thursday in Superior Court, said his attorney Steven Shewry.

“He’s been under exceedingly high levels of stress and humiliation since people started getting named captain ahead of him,” Shewry said. “It’s been pretty tough on him. He’s not an emotional guy but you can see that it’s not all that pleasant every day for a guy who always wanted to be a firefighter.”

The circumstances that led to Vandeveld’s lawsuit began in 2006 when Aguirre interviewed the firefighter as part of an investigation into so-called pension spiking, a practice in which employees are promoted to higher ranks or positions shortly before retirement allowing them to collect larger pensions once they leave.

Shortly thereafter, Vandeveld tried to intercede on behalf of a fire captain who many in the department believed had leaked to a reporter that a battalion chief had been arrested for drunken driving. In his lawsuit, Vandeveld said some firefighters physically assaulted the captain and spray-painted “rat” on his fire helmet...

Monday, December 20, 2010

Former union boss gets $700,000 for lost pension; Judge says the payout wasn't legally necessary

I see that attorney Ann Smith and Judie Italiano are still working closely. I'm wondering if the pension board was worried about dirty laundry being aired. Ann Smith was closely involved when the illegal pension deal was made, and she knows where all the skeletons are buried.

Former union boss gets $700,000 for lost pension
Judge says the payout wasn't legally necessary
By Craig Gustafson
December 17, 2010

The San Diego city retirement board has awarded a $700,000 settlement to former labor leader Judie Italiano despite a judge’s ruling that she isn’t owed anything beyond her $5,700-a-year pension.

The settlement was approved by Superior Court Judge Joel Pressman because he had no choice once the parties agreed. He expressed concerns, however, that it was “clearly not legally necessary” given his previous decision against Italiano. The City Attorney’s Office also argued the deal wasn’t reached in good faith.

Italiano, former president of the city’s union representing white-collar workers, had been battling with the city and its pension system to restore the annual $86,000 pension she lost in 2007 after the Internal Revenue Service deemed it invalid.

At issue is the city’s past decision to allow labor leaders to include their union service toward their pensions as city employees. In Italiano’s case, she was able to combine her 22 years as head of the Municipal Employees Association — peaking at $114,000 annually — with her nine years as a city typist making about $17,000.

The IRS said the practice, called presidential leave, violated tax law because union leaders aren’t city employees and thus can’t receive credit for union work when it comes to a city pension.

Italiano sued the city and pension system for $1.8 million — the estimated value over time of her combined union-city pension — accusing officials of negligence and making false promises about how much she would have for retirement.

Judge Pressman ruled last month that the city didn’t properly approve the presidential leave benefit so it doesn’t owe Italiano anything but the smaller pension for her nine-year stint with the city.

While the case was still going on, pension and union officials were negotiating a settlement for Italiano. The pension board unanimously approved the deal in closed session Oct. 1 — 45 days before the judge ruled against Italiano.

Pressman reluctantly approved the deal on procedural grounds Monday despite his concerns.

“This court does not see this as a good faith settlement,” he wrote in a tentative ruling. “It is a settlement crafted to give judicial cover to an agreement based on prior illegal acts. This court is not inclined to grant that cover. If the parties choose, the settlement can go forward but without this court’s good faith determination.”

Mark Sullivan, board president for the San Diego City Employees’ Retirement System, said the city and pension system were sued by Italiano on different grounds and the judge’s ruling only cleared the city from damages. He said the board needed to limit its financial exposure by settling the lawsuit.

“The cost to defend ourselves in this action would be pretty close to the amount that we were seeking to settle and there’s no way we would be able to recover that,” he said. “Our goal is to minimize the impact to the trust fund.”

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said it didn’t make any sense to agree to a settlement given the court’s decision.

“Once again, the pension board has overstepped its bounds,” he said. “Although the judge applied procedural standards, he made it absolutely clear that he is not inclined to grant ‘cover’ for this deal. We have other avenues to challenge the pension board’s side deal and will do so.”

Goldsmith declined further comment, saying he would seek City Council input before making any decision.

Italiano’s attorney, Ann Smith, did not return a call for comment.

Italiano, 64, won’t receive the entire $700,000 settlement. She owes the pension system $250,000 for overpayments she received in the first few years after she retired, a sum that will be subtracted from the settlement.

The remaining $450,000 will be used to purchase an annuity for Italiano that is expected to pay her nearly $28,000 annually for the rest of her life. The settlement also leaves Italiano eligible to receive taxpayer-funded health care in retirement, although it’s unclear if she is actually receiving the benefit.

Before the settlement, Italiano had a $480 monthly pension although she received nothing because the system used the money to pay down her outstanding debt. If the presidential leave benefit had been upheld, she would have received nearly $7,200 per month.

The settlement could fall through if the IRS raises any objections.

Italiano resigned from the union in May 2009 amid an internal investigation into her potential misuse of a union credit card. She repaid nearly $14,000.

David Malcolm: A Plant's Power Over a Man's Life

A Plant's Power Over a Man's Life
December 19, 2010
by Liam Dillon

The man with the troubled past walked into the downtown San Diego elevator.

In itself, this incident wouldn't be notable. The man walks into lots of downtown elevators. His bank is downtown. So is his business and the top-floor, invitation-only private club he attends where you have to wear a jacket at dinnertime. He lives downtown, too.

This time people noticed. They were about to walk into a meeting on the source of one of the man's greatest triumphs and greatest troubles.

The man in question, David Malcolm, wasn't invited to the meeting.

It had been more than 10 years since Malcolm put together a $100 million deal to buy 165 acres of bay-front land without cash or credit. A man accustomed to crafting big land deals for private gain did this one for the public, snagging one of the few undeveloped urban coastal parcels in Southern California.

"It could possibly be one of the single best financial deals done in the state of California's history," Malcolm said.

It had been more than five years since the deal became the noose that hung his public career and, according to a close friend, nearly killed him. Malcolm pleaded guilty to a felony conflict of interest charge after it was revealed his company was working as a $20,000-a-month consultant for the land's tenant and he didn't leave his public position. Despite the plea, Malcolm maintained that he's innocent or, at worst, an innocent victim. He even successfully fought to get the charge reduced to a misdemeanor and the conviction expunged from his record...

Ever since he became a Chula Vista city councilman 28 years ago, Malcolm's public life and his life as a real estate wheeler and dealer rarely has been without controversy. For 20 years, all the allegations against him — including one in which he was accused of plotting arson to collect insurance money — came to nothing.

Then the power plant happened. The deal Malcolm brokered as chairman of the Port turned over the plant's operations to Duke Energy, a power company in North Carolina. Duke, in turn, hired a company Malcolm ran for $20,000 a month to try to make similar deals happen elsewhere. In essence, Malcolm began working for a major Port tenant.

Malcolm stayed on the Port, which was negotiating tax breaks for businesses, like Duke, operating on Port lands in the South Bay...

Instead, Malcolm was sentenced to 120 days in a county-lockdown facility, probation and almost $300,000 in fines and court fees. His public career was over.

But Malcolm didn't leave the issue alone.

He sued the Port unsuccessfully over its legal advice. Three years after his plea, Malcolm won a fight to get the charge reduced to a misdemeanor and the conviction expunged from his record. The topic remains raw. Malcolm speaks in extended monologues about the case's arcane details...

[Maura Larkins' comment: I have a sense that plenty of public officials betray the public trust even more than Malcolm did, and they never get called to account. For example, Juan Vargas took a lucrative job with an insurance company right when he left his job on the California Assembly insurance committee. And then the voters returned him to office a few years later!

Also, Duncan Hunter is famous for warm relationships with military contractors. I also have sympathy for Malcolm's disgust with public entity lawyers. It seems that they are often chosen because they tell officials they can help them get away with ignoring the law.]

With Malcolm was his cousin Dan Malcolm, an incoming Port commissioner from Imperial Beach. David Malcolm said that he and Dan were "very close," according to a Port memorandum on the conversation. The memo added the environmental director felt uncomfortable discussing the power plant and the conversation ended.

"This information is included only for public disclosure and to avoid any appearance that the District has been cooperating or in any way engaged with David Malcolm on matters related to the South Bay Power Plant," the Port report states.

It's not just future development that's at stake. There's about $60 million set aside to pay for the plant's demolition. The Houston-based company that currently owns the plant, Dynegy, pays the Port rent. Dynegy also is for sale.

The city of Chula Vista wants in, too. Its leaders were the ones who contacted Malcolm, Peace and other South Bay leaders over the summer to get the plant down. Malcolm and Peace helped arrange a meeting with state regulators this fall to push for the plant's closure.

"I had a choice of saying, 'Oooh, I'm not going to call David Malcolm,'" said Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox. "Why wouldn't you call someone who knows as much about it as he does?"...

Last week, that ask came. A Chula Vista councilwoman emailed Malcolm, Peace and others requesting advice for responding to the Port's latest demands...

[Maura Larkins comment: Was that councilwoman Patricia Aguilar?]

Convicted of a Felony, But Not a Convicted Felon

July 5, 2006
Convicted of a Felony, But Not a Convicted Felon
Voice of San Diego

You'll remember my question about the little present former Port Commissioner David Malcolm received last week from Superior Court Judge John C. Einhorn. In 2003, Malcolm pleaded guilty to violating the state's law against public officials participating in deals in which they have a personal financial interest. He was sentenced to three years probation and he had some fines and other economic penalties.

Like many people who finish their probation time, Malcolm asked the judge to expunge his record. Einhorn agreed and gave Malcolm one more little benefit - he ordered Malcolm's charge to be lowered from a felony to a misdemeanor and then expunged.

I wondered what the deal was. Did this mean that, like Britney Spears' first marriage, Malcolm's conviction was successfully annulled? Does it mean that Malcolm is no longer a convicted felon?

I called the district attorney's prosecutor in the case, Stephen Robinson. He said, essentially, that no, Malcolm is no longer a convicted felon, but he was still convicted of a felony.

My brain exploded after we talked but let me try to put this puzzle together:

Malcolm's recent pardon allows him to have the benefits and privileges that we non-felon citizens enjoy: to vote, to run for office, etc. But Robinson said that certain benefits won't be available to Malcolm. For instance, he can't carry a firearm.

"If, four years from now, I was going to run his criminal record sheet - his rap sheet - it will be there. It doesn't disappear," Robinson said about the criminal conviction. He said that if he was investigating Malcolm again, he could use the "rap sheet" to argue that Malcolm has a history doing such and such.

Now, apparently, it's a normal thing for someone to complete his or her probation and to ask the judge to expunge the record as such. If it's not normal, let me know.

But what's really interesting is the second part of this deal: that Malcolm had his charge reduced to a misdemeanor before it was expunged.

I asked Robinson if Malcolm could now argue that he was never convicted a felony, but, instead he was convicted of a misdemeanor.

"I suppose he can say that. I just look at it from my perspective, which is from the criminal-justice perspective. The conviction still stands," Robinson told me.

My brain just exploded again thinking about it.

Robinson, for the record, had argued strongly against the judge allowing Malcolm's charge to go from a felony to a misdemeanor.

His reasoning seems pretty logical: While a port commissioner, Malcolm agreed to become a paid consultant to Duke Energy and he agreed to put the interests of Duke Energy above those of the Port District.

From the DA:

While actively participating in Port District business that directly benefited Duke Energy, Malcolm was being paid $20,000 each month.

So, it wasn't as if he were urinating in public or committing another such misdemeanor violation. This is a heavy accusation to which Malcolm pleaded guilty.

Again from Robinson's brief:

While occupying this position of trust, he betrayed the people of San Diego for his own pecuniary gain. Malcolm's behavior cannot be described as one or two mistakes. It similarly was not a series of errors that took place over a short period of time or in haste. Rather, Malcolm deliberately and methodically engaged in a course of conduct that put the interests of the people of San Diego second to his own financial interests.

Again, it doesn't appear to be a misdemeanor offense.

I called the judge, who referred me to Malcolm's own court filings. When I get them, I'll share them. We still, after all, are left with important questions: If it's true, as Robinson said, that Malcolm's conviction will always haunt him as a felony, then why would Malcolm want it to be reduced to a misdemeanor before it was expunged? What's the point?

"I'd have to ask him what motivated him to take that two-step process," Robinson said.


Friday, December 17, 2010

San Diego police are sorry they sued the city

San Diego police are sorry they sued the city
Lorie Hearn
Watchdog Institute
December 16, 2010
By Kelly Thornton

The San Diego Police Officers Association has sued the city several times in recent years, and the city has spent $8.6 million to fight them so far. That makes the city’s own cops its most expensive legal adversary.

Now, the officers are sorry.

The police union has a new lawyer who called two of three lawsuits “frivolous” and has filed two malpractice lawsuits against the attorneys who sued in the first place.

“The San Diego Police Officers Association knows this was expensive litigation for the city and has apologized profusely and we’ve done what we can to make it right,” said the POA’s new attorney, Michael Conger, an employment, business and personal injury lawyer from San Diego. “We’ve gotten rid of any litigation to the city related to this nonsense.”

In total, there are 23 lawsuits filed against the city between 2003 and 2010 in which the city has spent more than $1 million. The POA cases are three of those. For all 23 cases, the city has spent $55.3 million, according to an analysis by the Watchdog Institute, a nonprofit investigative reporting center based at San Diego State University.

One of the three cases brought by the POA was to force the city to pay officers for time spent putting on uniforms and protective gear and answering work-related emails. Another case accused then-City Attorney Michael Aguirre of bribery and extortion related to contract negotiations, and sought his removal from office. A third suit was a spinoff of the second; both alleged that the city’s underfunding of the pension violated police officers’ constitutional rights.

The POA lost all three cases – two at summary judgment, meaning a judge didn’t even think the case was worth going to trial. In the overtime case, a federal jury decided in favor of the city after a six-week trial.

More than 1,000 officers opted to drop any appeals based on advice from Conger. The previous lawyer, Gregory Petersen, an Orange County civil rights and employment attorney, is appealing one of the cases on behalf of about 100 clients who’ve stuck with him.

As the cases dragged on, POA members’ credit cards were charged $20 to 40 a month. To cover legal fees, the organization had to mortgage its headquarters.

“I think they were hurt dramatically,” Conger said of the officers. “They paid Petersen over $2.8 million for the privilege of bringing frivolous lawsuits, and he didn’t win one single motion. He doesn’t think he did anything wrong and doesn’t want to pay a dollar.”

At the same time, the financially crippled city hired an outside legal firm, Latham & Watkins, at up to $750 an hour, because the city had a conflict defending against its own employees...

Monday, December 13, 2010

Mayor of Redevelopment No Longer?

Mayor of Redevelopment No Longer?
(Click on the link above to get all the links in the story.)
by Scott Lewis
Voice of San Diego
December 13, 2010

Redevelopment is the reason the city of San Diego can consider building a new Convention Center, football stadium and other enhancements downtown at a time when rec centers, libraries and swimming pools are in danger of closing elsewhere.

Cities all across the state use the mechanism for their blighted neighborhoods. But unlike most of them, San Diego does things differently. For one, it allows two nonprofits, fully funded by the city, to manage its redevelopment efforts downtown and in southeastern San Diego: CCDC and SEDC respectively.

And, also unlike other areas, San Diego made its elected mayor the executive director of the Redevelopment Agency -- the entity that oversees not only CCDC and SEDC but the other areas considered blighted in town.

Now, that may change. The City Council is considering ousting him as San Diego's redevelopment leader and hiring a professional manager wake of the mayor's efforts to extend the lifespan of downtown redevelopment without involving the public or City Council.

U-T: We Want Maas Redevelopment
The Union-Tribune made its case for downtown redevelopment this weekend featuring an editorial about, and a Q&A with, the outgoing chairman of CCDC, Fred Maas.

If that didn't give you enough Maas, the man himself penned an op-ed of his own with a now common claim that visionaries like him are only held back by shortsighted "small-town undertakers."

In the Q&A, Maas blasts the proposal supported now by five City Council members that the downtown redevelopment agency take over from the city's ailing general fund, the duty to pay back bonds on the last expansion of the Convention Center - a move that would free up $9.2 million a year.

"We run the risk of bankrupting ultimately over the next 20 years the redevelopment agency. This is not that different from underfunding pensions or from granting benefits without a way to pay for them by raiding our coffers to pay for things that were never contemplated."

Moral: If you don't like something that's happening in the city, compare it to the pension system! But question: Aren't redevelopment efforts eventually supposed to run out of money?

The new City Council president is considering your thoughts on those questions and others as he proposes a new ad hoc committee for redevelopment. And he has set up an email address to collect them: budgetandfinance@sandiego.gov.

Snow? Ha!

The U-T drew a direct line from the major snowfall and incredible collapse of the roof of the Metrodome in Minneapolis to the Chargers search for a new stadium (did you see the video of the roof collapse?). Presumably, this adds urgency to the stadium debate there - the Minnesota Vikings are often mentioned in the same breath as the Chargers as possible teams that could relocate to Los Angeles.

Back in San Diego, it was a pretty nice day at the stadium yesterday, as Sam Hodgson's photos prove...

Sulking in San Diego

» Last week, we mentioned a video provoking guffaws across San Diego's political twitterati the last few days. It portrays San Diego as an insecure teenage girl uncomfortable that "the boys" keep making fun of her big pension. It's clearly trying to chide the media for begin so negative while making the case that we shouldn't worry so much about the city's problems, and we should support a new stadium and other projects championed by downtown redevelopment officials and the mayor.

As the U-T summarized, nobody wants to take credit for the flick.

I actually agree with another anonymous commenter, though, who said that the city is better represented by the mother figure in the video - always trying to convince people who are worried here that everything is fantastic. And she does that, even though she regularly admits (even trumpets) how bad things are going to get if we don't deal with our big pension.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

With more than 130 lawyers on staff, since July 2006, San Diego spent $34 million on private lawyers."

Morning Report
by Randy Dotinga
Voice of San Diego
Dec. 9, 2010

In other city finance news, 10News and the Watchdog Institute report that "despite having more than 130 lawyers on staff, since July 2006, the city of San Diego has spent more than $34 million on private lawyers."

And the U-T says about 2,200 current and retired city workers "may be forced to accept significantly reduced pensions or pay a lump sum of as much as $50,000 to keep their current pension."

December 10, 2010
Calculating the Cost of a City's Litigation
by Brian Baxter
The AM Law Daily

San Diego, no stranger to large legal bills, is grappling with $130 million in litigation costs accumulated over the past eight years, according to an analysis conducted by the Watchdog Institute, a nonprofit investigative reporting center at San Diego State University.

KPBS, a media arm of the university, has the details on the Watchdog Institute's findings. One of the more interesting tidbits: although San Diego has 137 in-house city attorneys, including 27 in its civil litigation unit, since 2006 the city has spent more than $34 million on outside lawyers.

Some of those who spoke to Watchdog said that former San Diego City Attorney Michael Aguirre bears the responsibility for some of those bills. In the spring of 2006, Aguirre threatened to sue two law firms--Vinson & Elkins and Willkie Farr & Gallagher--for malpractice.

Eventually, Aguirre hired his own lawyers--on contingency--for litigation in which he claimed both firms charged excessive fees and failed to meet deadlines on work the firms did related to the city's pension crisis. (A voicemail message left for Aguirre at his office--he now is in private practice after losing a reelection bid in November 2008--was not returned by the time of this post.)

But wasn't Aguirre the one who was fighting to reign in the billing rates of Am Law 100 firms doing work for San Diego, as The American Lawyer reported in November 2008?

In that story, reporter Ross Todd detailed Aguirre's suits against three firms--Vinson, Willkie Farr, and bond counsel Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe--for work they did related to San Diego's financial disclosure practices. Vinson paid $4.35 million to settle its role in the case in June 2008. Orrick paid $2.8 million in a similar settlement a month later. A case against Willkie Farr is pending. (Bryan Vess, a San Diego plaintiff's lawyer trying the case against Willkie Farr, did not respond to a request for comment. Nor did Patrick Swann, Jr., a partner at Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps defending the firm.)

Since then Aguirre's successor, former local judge Jan Goldsmith, has told Watchdog that Aguirre's litigiousness contributed to a spike in San Diego's legal expenses and insurance rates. Goldsmith claims that Aguirre lacked confidence in his own lawyers, hired expensive outside lawyers, and made insurers nervous with his "sue happy" mentality.

One firm singled out by the Watchdog Institute for its billing rates is Latham & Watkins. Watchdog reports the firm has received $18 million for work it has done for San Diego over the past eight years, charging up to $750 an hour for its services.

Goldsmith also told Watchdog that when he took office in 2008 he was shocked by the amount of money being spent on outside counsel at firms like Latham.

"It was huge, and it was obvious that we had to rebuild the law firm...and make it to a point where we have confidence to handle these cases in-house," Goldsmith said. "It was a terrible waste of taxpayer dollars to use Latham & Watkins essentially as a division of the city attorney's office."

After Aguirre was voted out of office in November 2008, The Am Law Daily reported that Latham's role as "most-favored-firm status could be jeopardy." Goldsmith described the hourly rates charged by Latham lawyers as "outrageous," and noted that attorneys from his own office made only $49 an hour. Goldsmith told Watchdog he negotiated Latham down to $550 an hour on cases the firm already was handling, ones in which it would have been more costly to start over with new counsel.

A Latham spokesman disputed the hourly rates stated by Goldsmith, telling Watchdog that the firm's discounted hourly rates were closer to $400 per hour, with the current city attorney likely citing figures billed by senior lawyers at the firm. Latham noted its success in recovering legal fees from insurance companies for the city.

"A primary reason why municipal clients engage a firm of the caliber of Latham & Watkins is that we often save them money in the long run," the firm told Watchdog. "The total collections from insurance companies equal or exceed the amounts billed by Latham to the city for work since January 1, 2005--with approximately $18.5 million collected to date." (Latham stood by its statement to Watchdog when contacted by The Am Law Daily.)

Despite the firm's successes, Latham's yearly billings for San Diego have decreased from $11.9 million in 2009 to $2.7 million through October of this year, according to the Watchdog Institute report. Aguirre told Watchdog that the city council--not the city attorney--is responsible for hiring outside counsel. Latham, he told Watchdog, was first hired under his predecessor, Casey Gwinn.

"Isn't it funny how two years later it's still my fault," Aguirre said. "The idea of trying to blame me even two years later is so ludicrous. That just shows you how desperate they are."

The City Is Losing Institutional Knowledge on the Chargers Issue

...The City Is Losing Institutional Knowledge on the Chargers Issue

More than just football fans should be concerned about Michell's departure and how it fits into the unrelenting Chargers debate.

Downtown stadium or not, the city has to do something about the Chargers. The city loses $12 million a year operating Qualcomm Stadium in Mission Valley, money that otherwise could pay for police, fire, parks and library services.

Why does the city lose that much money? Because past city officials failed in their negotiations the team. The city struck such a series of bad deals with the Chargers that the team essentially gets free rent and can leave town whenever it wants while the city bleeds tax dollars.

Michell, Rath and outgoing downtown redevelopment head Fred Maas all were key figures in the city's current talks with the team. Soon they'll all be gone — though the city could hire Maas back as a consultant.

Whomever takes that trio's place will be going up against a team attorney who has worked on stadium issues for eight years and in his recent spare time has advised on other crises involving one of the nation's largest private financial institutions, Lance Armstrong's doping allegations and the divorce case with the fate of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the balance.

Five Things to Know About Kris Michell's Departure
December 8, 2010
by Liam Dillon

1. The Mayor's All Grown Up

Yesterday's departure of Kris Michell, San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders' top political aide, came with many things left undone...

"I think she was critically important to the mayor," said Phil Rath, a former city policy advisor who is now a lobbyist. "She was intimately involved in all of the major issues. She was the mayor's point person for pretty much everything that is a major issue in our time."...

2. She Was the Mayor's Link to the Downtown Establishment

...Still, Sainz agreed with the premise that Michell provided the link between the Mayor's Office and the downtown establishment.

3. Expect the Mayor to Hire a Political Expert

If Michell was the city's most powerful person you knew nothing about, her replacement Julie Dubick is a little less of a mystery.

She's an attorney, former partner at downtown law firm Seltzer Caplan and has worked as assistant director of the U.S. Marshals Service and with the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington D.C. She ran unsuccessfully for school board in 2000. Her biography from that time notes that she was the highest-ranking woman in federal law enforcement when she worked with the Marshals Service.

Dubick joined Sanders' staff when he took office in 2005. Her legal background has allowed her to give the mayor guidance independent of the City Attorney's Office. Rath said Dubick was one of the top lawyers in the city.

"We never trusted (former City Attorney) Mike Aguirre's legal advice because we always thought it was political advice," Sainz said. "Julie provided the legal perspective."

[Maura Larkins comment: Baloney, Mr. Sainz. Julie simply provides the interpretation of the law that suits your agenda.]

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Adding to the Porkfest's Questions

Adding to the Porkfest's Questions
by Randy Dotinga
Voice of San Diego
December 7, 2010

Downtown's redevelopment agency devoted quite a bit of effort to keep the public from seeing an early version of a report justifying its future existence.

The agency stonewalled our requests under public records law, but finally relented and released the draft of a report that aimed to determine whether downtown San Diego was still blighted - rundown - and needed billions in public money to help it recover.

"The study in its current form does nothing but add to burgeoning questions about the deal's legitimacy and the core mission of redevelopment agencies," writes City Hall reporter Liam Dillon.

All this comes in the wake of the secretive late-night pork-barrel deal in Sacramento that greatly extended the life of the redevelopment agency and circumvented the public process that this study was supposed to kick off.