Juris prudence

Last Friday, San Diego city councilman Jim Madaffer was testifying before a federal grand jury in the matter of the city's Cheetahs strip-club scandal; at the same hour a few blocks away in state appellate court, an attorney for the Reader was urging a three-judge panel to make public e-mails and other records of Elena Cristiano, onetime aide to Mayor Dick Murphy and the subject of another of city hall's dark mysteries. Cristiano, who had a criminal record for shoplifting and was once arrested after a dispute with a San Diego lifeguard at a La Jolla beach, had been a waitress at Seau's and a member of the Padres' "Pad Squad" cheerleaders before being hired by Murphy to be his first press secretary. The attractive brunette also had a longstanding personal relationship with Charles Steinberg, an ex-Padres executive, with whom she owned a Poway condo, which she never reported on conflict-of-interest forms. Early last year, Cristiano abruptly left her job with Murphy, telling a reporter for the Reader of unspecified troubles she had with John Kern, Murphy's top deputy and longtime confidante. Neither Murphy nor Kern would discuss the matter. In preparation for a story about the situation, the Reader asked Murphy's office to provide copies of e-mail and other official documents authored by Cristiano while she was on the city payroll; the mayor refused, and the newspaper filed suit under the state public records act. Superior Court judge William Nevitt Jr. denied the paper's request to see the records, and the Reader appealed the ruling. A decision by the appeals court is expected within two months.

Bugged city According to records kept by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, San Diego-based U.S. District Judge Marilyn Huff authorized a wide-ranging series of federal wiretaps back in April 2001 for the purpose of gathering intelligence for a racketeering investigation here. In its annual report to Congress about U.S. wiretap activities, released last month, the office says the local taps were on personal residences and businesses and involved use of "portable devices." During the 180-day period in which the taps were authorized, agents picked up 26,154 "intercepts," involving conversations of 1393 people, with 1227 of the intercepts said to be "incriminating." Total cost of the operation was $577,575. What was the purpose of the investigation, and did it possibly relate to the Cheetahs strip-club scandal now enveloping San Diego's city council? No one is yet saying, but similar bugs have been authorized by a federal judge in Las Vegas, where the feds are conducting a parallel investigation of Cheetahs and its owner, Mike Galardi. There, according to the records, judges Philip Pro and Lloyd D. George signed off on four separate wiretap operations over a period extending from June 2001 to as recently as last summer. Two operations lasted at least a year each; the July 2002 taps were authorized for 150 days, cost $140,198, picked up 24,167 intercepts from 45 people, with 518 of conversations deemed incriminating. A series of racketeering-related taps approved by Pro in June 2001 cost $246,523, intercepted 10,000 conversations of 800 subjects, netting 95 incriminating calls, according to the report.

Back to the future Years ago, during the administration of President Jimmy Carter, Rohr Corp., the now-defunct Chula Vista aerospace outfit, was trying to diversify into the business of making rail cars. It came up with the Turboliner and spent millions of dollars of federal money developing its "train of the future" before the project tanked. But old Turboliners never die, it seems. Amtrak, which is already millions of dollars in debt, is spending $74.5 million to refurbish seven of the vintage, 1970s, five-car, French-designed Turboliner trains for service between the Upstate New York city of Rensselaer and New York City's Pennsylvania Station. Powered by turbines, the trains -- with one engine in the front and another at the rear -- travel at about 250 miles per hour, reports the Albany Times Union ... That democratic primary race for the 76th District's assembly seat between ex-Gray Davis aide Vince Hall and opponents including Lori Saldana and Wade Sanders has taken a new twist. One of Hall's biggest backers has been San Diego city councilman Michael Zucchet, whose office was raided by FBI agents looking for evidence in the Cheetahs case. Zucchet vouched for Hall at the San Diego Democratic Club endorsement meeting ... Look for fireworks today in Washington as the Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife, and Oceans Subcommittee of the House Resources Committee takes up the controversy over a Mexican ban on San Diego long-range sportfishing off the Revilla Gigedo Islands of Baja California. Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham is battling environmentalists, who say fish stocks there are being dangerously depleted.

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