San Diego Business Journal

Superior Court Judge Charles Wickersham on Sept. 30 dismissed the lawsuit filed by San Diego City Attorney Mike Aguirre against present and past members of the San Diego City Employees' Retirement System.

The lawsuit charged Lawrence Grissom, SDCERS administrator; Lori Chapin, general counsel; and former board members Bruce Herring, Cathy Lexin, Ron Saathoff, John Torres, Terri Webster and Sharon Wilkinson with violating the Political Reform Act, which prohibits a public official from participating in any decision where he or she has a financial interest.

Wickersham, in his ruling, said that "pension benefits cannot as a matter of law constitute the type of 'income' resulting in a financial interest, which violates the Political Reform Act."

Commented Peter Preovolos, SDCERS board president, "The city attorney's claim that pension board members should not be involved in pension matters because they may someday receive a pension benefit, is in direct conflict with the City Charter."

Following the ruling, Aguirre said he will appeal the ruling, saying that the judge "erred by failing to allow the case to be resolved on its merits." He added that the court "essentially ruled that bank robbers don't commit crimes because the money stolen is legal currency."

San Diego City Manager Lamont Ewell commented that the ruling "comes as no surprise," and supports the legal opinion provided by Steven Strauss from the law firm of Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch, which was presented to the City Council on July 14.

"I also personally recommended to the council that the city of San Diego had a duty to provide legal representation to city employees based on Government Code Section 995. Because the city attorney filed the initial lawsuit against city employees, the city faced an inherent conflict of interest. It was forced to seek outside legal counsel. The outside legal bill cost $25,000 and was paid for by taxpayers."

The ruling, Ewell said, "will require the city to pay for legal fees for city employees named in a lawsuit brought against them by the city attorney, without authorization of the City Council."

"The city attorney's misguided and continued efforts to file frivolous lawsuits are not in the best interests of the citizens or the city," he added.

Aguirre responded that Ewell's statement "reflects his complete lack of understanding" of the legal issues at the hearing.

"It is ironic that Ewell raises the issue of an inherent conflict of interest," said Aguirre. "It was Ewell who convinced the City Council to release a privileged legal opinion related to that matter, which was prepared by attorney Steven Strauss from the law firm of Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch. Today, Strauss appeared as counsel for the defendants in the People v. Grissom case, which he previously analyzed on the city's behalf."

San Diego City Councilman Jim Madaffer also checked in on the ruling Sept. 30, commenting that "Michael Aguirre is wrong, and today's ruling proves it."

"His frivolous lawsuit is a waste of taxpayer money and his shoot-from-the-hip style is counterproductive to solving our city's problems. His lawsuit was questionable from the beginning it's time for him to stand down and let the appropriate investigatory agencies conclude their independent and unbiased work," Madaffer said.

Pat Broderick