Former law colleagues of judge in moguls' case against Filner gave big money to DeMaio

Sheppard Mullin lawyers heaped cash on failed mayoral campaign of local Republican stalwart against Democratic mayor now under fire in GOP hotelier's suit

Attorneys at Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton - the big downtown law and lobbying firm where San Diego Superior Court Judge Timothy B. Taylor worked for two decades before being appointed to the bench by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2005 - contributed heavily to GOP city councilman Carl DeMaio in last year's battle for mayor, records show.

Taylor is the judge in the case brought by the city's top Republican hoteliers against Democratic San Diego mayor Bob Filner in an effort to force him to sign a contract negotiated by GOP ex-mayor Jerry Sanders, a major beneficiary of the hotel magnates' political largesse.

As we reported last week, Taylor's 2012 nominating petition was circulated by city hall political operative Jennifer Tierney, who has worked for GOP ex-mayor Dick Murphy and Republican city attorney Bonnie Dumanis, among others.

The Taylor petition was signed by city councilman Todd Gloria, a Democrat backed by Republican business interests; a Gloria aide; and Robert H. Gleason, the chief financial officer of Evans Hotels, Inc., owned by Bill Evans, treasurer of the city hotel fee district leading the legal attack on Filner.

Following our stories, Taylor filed a minute order in the Filner case, disclosing the facts we had already reported and denying he had any relationship with Gloria, Gleason, and Tierney. The judge also denied that he was "GOP leaning," asserting that he had long been registered as declining to state his political party.

That would seemingly make him the odd man out among his former colleagues at Sheppard, Mullin - which, besides a maintaining a lucrative litigation practice, conducts a booming lobbying business at city hall for an array of major corporate interests.

According to a spreadsheet analysis of data posted online by the San Diego city clerk's office, 12 individuals who disclosed they were attorneys at Sheppard Mullin gave Republican DeMaio's 2012 mayoral campaign a total of $6198.

In addition, six individuals identified as Sheppard Mullin attorneys gave a total of $1215 to DeMaio's city council fund. The totals do not reflect contributions by spouses and other family members.

In addition to making their own contributions, four of the firm's legal and lobbying stars put on fundraisers for the Republican councilman, according to Sheppard's third quarter lobbying disclosure.

Co-hosting an August 8 event that brought in $5775, the report says, were Christopher B. Neils, Jeffrey W. Forrest, Donna D. Jones, and John E. Ponder.

An August 28 fundraiser that raised $4809 for DeMaio was co-hosted by Neils, along with California Strategies lobbyist Ben Haddad; former Cox Cable head Bill Geppert; developer Russ Haley; and Mike McNerney, who works for Lowe Enterprises, which specializes in "public-private" partnerships with local government, according to its website.

In addition, three of the same attorneys who backed DeMaio kicked in a total of $1350 to the campaign of GOP Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, who in the middle of the campaign announced he was departing the party after it endorsed DeMaio. Firm lawyers gave $1300 to the mayoral campaign fund of GOP District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.

In contrast to the Republican candidates, Democrat Filner's mayoral bid got a grand total of just $250 from a single Sheppard lawyer, Donna Jones, who also contributed to DeMaio and Fletcher, the records show.

After Filner was elected, the Sheppard lawyers grew more generous, coming up with a total of $1450 for the mayor's campaign fund in late November and December, according to the firm's fourth quarter lobbying disclosure statement.

The Sheppard Mullin donors represent some of the biggest legal and lobbying names in San Diego. Neils is one of the firm’s earliest San Diego partners. He jumped over from the city’s then-powerful Gray Cary law firm back in 1986, according to an account in the Los Angeles Times, saying, "It looked to me like an opportunity to be in on the ground floor of a new office, an opportunity for having some part in shaping the direction of the firm.”

In April 1992, Neils, Sheppard Mullin, and San Diego hotel developer Douglas Manchester, now publisher of UT San Diego, were sued for professional negligence and breach of fiduciary duty by investors in a Hawaiian limited partnership, Manchester Hawaii Properties Ltd, as reported at the time by Don Bauder in the Union-Tribune. Manchester was a longtime client of the firm.

Reached by phone yesterday, Neils said that the Manchester case had subsequently been settled out of court. He added that he could not remember whether Taylor - who like Neils arrived at the firm early in its San Diego history - ever had a role in the firm’s extended legal and lobbying relationship with the now-UT San Diego publisher, whose paper is backing the suit against Filner.

According to the firm’s January 15 lobbyist registration on file with the city, Sheppard Mullin currently represents “Pacific Gateway, Ltd. - San Diego Marriott,” the Manchester-founded entity that built the bay front Marriott hotel on port property. It has since reportedly changed hands.

Asked what Taylor’s politics were like during his time at the firm, Neils said he didn’t know, and couldn’t recall if Taylor participated in any political fundraising activities while at Sheppard Mullin.

Regarding his own post-election contribution to Filner, Neils said it was, “the right thing to do, to help him pay off his campaign debt.”

According to the firm’s 33-page lobbyist registration statement, filed at city hall on January 15 of this year, its roster of corporate clients currently includes San Diego Gas & Electric; the Irvine Company; San Diego Landfill Systems; Western Alliance Bancorporation; Ryland Homes of California; McMillin Land Development; Garden Communities; C.W. Clark; Hazard Center Associates; Superior Ready Mix Concrete; Lankford & Associates; Murphy Development Company; power plant developer CVP North City, LLC; Sunroad Enterprises; and Pardee Homes.

In addition, the exclusive Bishops School of La Jolla retained Sheppard Mullin to obtain “city approval of plans for Library building and approval of variance from height limit” and “processing permits for Phase 2 of Master Plan for school facilities.”

The school’s elaborate library complex is named the Manchester Library and Learning Center, in honor of its principal donors, Douglas Manchester and his estranged wife Betsy.

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Comments

Yes, I would say GOP-leaning for sure. You don't leave a law firm behind after 20 years there, just because you are elected or appointed Judge.

33 pages of clients in their lobbying report. That's a lot of business at City Hall. No wonder Neils thought donating to Filner was the "right thing to do"...after Filner won the election.

It appears that the power elite put this hack into judge's robes, and then steered the case to him so he could throw it out. He'll probably be rewarded later with a Federal judgeship or court of appeals appointment, so he can double dip with a state pension and a Federal salary.

Oh say it isn't so! This white-shoe law firm is part of the tangled web of mutual back-scratchers and hand-washers that got that darned Manchester Library at white-shoe Bishop's School in La Jolla its "variance from height limit?" That means they broke the 30-foot law voted in as Prop D by the people of San Diego in the 1970's to apply to the coastal zone -- a law contested by developers and realtors and upheld by the Supreme Court!

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