Media spin and legal drama merge in Briggs battle

Goldsmith's courthouse warriors score hits with SDSU's TV station

Cory Briggs
  • Cory Briggs

This week's bitter legal skirmish between Cory Briggs and Republican city attorney Jan Goldsmith has been long in the making.

Jan Goldsmith

Jan Goldsmith

Jerry Sanders

Jerry Sanders

A series of reports broadcast this week by San Diego State University's public television station KPBS have obliquely related one aspect of the fight, citing a series of trust deeds as evidence that Briggs, the station claims, "has engaged in real estate transactions that a host of experts say are questionable and possibly fraudulent."

KPBS's scribes have provided a taste of the legal combat, but better clarity regarding the clash between Briggs and what amounts to the city's big three hotel moguls can be gleaned from the court file of San Diegans for Open Government v. the City of San Diego.

An earlier lawsuit brought by Briggs ultimately resulted in the end of a tax to pay for the city's $520-million convention center expansion. After losing an appeal, the city council voted to drop the case and seek another way to finance the center.

Briggs is currently suing to dissolve funding for the Tourism Marketing District Corporation, a separate legal entity from the city, with its own board of directors, set up by the city under GOP mayor Jerry Sanders to spend a big chunk of the city's hotel tax revenue.

As reported here two years ago, the nonprofit corporation's board is run by the city's top three hotel titans, all wealthy Republican donors, who in February 2013 sued Democratic then-mayor Bob Filner for control of hotel tax cash, traditionally handed out by the corporation to tourism industry insiders.

C. Terry Brown

C. Terry Brown

Richard Bartell

Richard Bartell

Bill Evans

Bill Evans

Ian Trowbridge

Ian Trowbridge

The chairman of the board is C. Terry Brown, whose father Charlie Brown founded Mission Valley's Town and Country Hotel back in the 1950s, and whose Atlas Hotels, Inc., is a major benefactor of San Diego State University, the source of the unflattering reports about Briggs.

The vice chairman is Richard Bartell, who leases the land under his Half Moon Inn on Shelter Island from the port district. The treasurer is Bill Evans, whose family owns the Bahia hotel on land leased from the city.

In the current legal battle, lawyers for the marketing district have filed a series of motions questioning the bona fides of those said to be members of San Diegans for Open Government, in whose name Briggs has sued.

"A key issue in this case has arisen as to the existence and timing of a [San Diegans for Open Government] membership form — the only membership form produced by [San Diegans for Open Government], " says a February 9 memorandum filed by the corporation.

The membership form, the document continues, "was purportedly signed by Linda Perine, the only [San Diegans for Open Government] member who allegedly paid [transit occupancy tax] within the time frame to make her allegedly eligible to vote on the renewal of the assessment at issue."


The tourism district's memorandum asks the court to force Perine to answer questions to which she has previously refused to respond, including "Were you active in Mayor Filner's campaign in 2012?" and "Were you involved in any other organizations that were against the TMD?"

Perine, president of the Democratic Women's Club and former director of community outreach under ex-mayor Filner, has written a series of articles in the San Diego Free Press entitled "Who runs San Diego?" which critiques the city's tourism establishment, among other local powers-that-be.

A hearing on the Perine matter has been set for March 6, the document shows.

The tourism district's lawyers have also been seeking to examine the contents of a computer belonging to the late Ian Trowbridge, a self-styled government watchdog who was another member of the plaintiffs’ group.

In a February 6 argument, the tourism district says it is "entitled to an inspection order for review of the Trowbridge Computer to obtain electronically stored information and metadata. Inspection is proper under the circumstances present here. In cases involving document authentication or alteration, the computer is not just a repository of files to be produced, but also the tool used to create or alter the questioned documents."

According to the filing, "inspection of the Trowbridge Computer is necessary to investigate the authenticity and timing of creation or alteration of the Blank Membership Application and Perine Membership Application."

On Wednesday, February 25, San Diego city attorney Goldsmith jumped into the fight, requesting a so-called ex-parte order to release the deposition transcript of someone in the plaintiffs' group identified only as "Member 4."

"It had been the City of San Diego's and the Tourism Marketing District Corporation's assertion that [San Diegans for Open Government] must demonstrate at least one of its members has paid, or is obligated to pay, the TMD assessment to have standing to sue the City and TMD Corp in this action," says Goldsmith's February 25 filing.

“However, initially, [San Diegans for Open Government] refused to disclose the identity of its members without a protective order. On January 8, 2014, the court issued a Protective Order protecting the disclosure of the identity of the SDOG members, its officers and directors, or any other individual directly associated with SDOG."

Goldsmith's February 25 filing says that on February 24 the city asked the Briggs group to "remove the confidential designation with respect to the deposition transcript of Member 4.” The first KPBS story about Briggs, which makes no mention of the ongoing legal battle between Briggs and the tourism management district, is dated February 23.

"On February 23, 2015, and February 24, 2015, all of the information in the Transcript which [San Diegans for Open Government] will assert is 'confidential' was made public by two KPBS inewssource news media feature stories," says Goldsmith's document.

How information from the sealed transcript may have come to be made available to KPBS is not mentioned, and the station has not revealed its sources. Goldsmith's filing argues he needs to unseal the transcript to comply with a public records act request from KPBS, made in an email dated February 23.

A hearing on the matter is set for 8:30 this morning.

Meanwhile, Briggs has issued a statement disputing KPBS's take on his trust deeds, as well as denying alleged conflicts of interest that the station and Goldsmith suggest his wife, Sarichia Cacciatore, may have had as an executive with an environmental firm doing work for the city.

"’I'm inclined to say, 'You can’t make this stuff up!' But they did."

The Briggs statement adds, "Don’t take my bemusement as being insensitive to the bigger issues here. Make no mistake: The behavior here is reckless, wrong, and harmful to the public as well as to innocent third parties."

Update 2/26, 11:20 a.m.

A hearing on Goldsmith’s request to unseal the deposition has been scheduled for March 4, according to a tweet from city attorney spokesman Gerry Braun.

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Comments

Briggs made an extremely odd and somewhat sycophantic appearance at the Council hearing on Feb 25, 2014, in support of renewing the downtown PBID and imposing ever-increasing assessments on downtown property owners over the next 10 years.

Briggs' San Diegans for Open Government lawsuits against Downtown San Diego Partnership over the PBID formation and expenditures seem to have been resolved. DSDP, a nonprofit entity run by Kris Michell, has previously spent property owners' assessments in ways that Briggs recognized are not legally allowed (e.g., legal fees, consultant fees) by State law governing assessment districts. However, in dropping his lawsuits over this issue, now that Michell is his new BFF, Briggs has been paid $50,000 by DSDP. Briggs' settlement agreement makes it clear that application of assessments toward legal costs surrounding his lawsuits is NOW perfectly proper.

“Because the exclusive subject matter of the DSDP case was the scope and application of revenue received from assessment payers, the DSDP’s payment of its attorney’s fees and costs related to this action, including that of the mediator, are proper expenditures under DSDP’s Management District Plan & Engineers Report…”

There are valid legal problems that any competent lawyer and lawsuit could bring to court, and win, concerning the PBID and the city's MADs, but Briggs' suits stupidly missed the mark. He has done more harm than good on this issue. Goldsmith and Michell must be laughing gleefully (all it took was $50K of property owners' assessment money to buy him off): now that Briggs has called off the dogs on the assessment issue, Goldsmith et al. will take him down.

BlueSouthPark,

I think you refer to Briggs' appearance at the Feb 24 "rally" to renew the downtown PBID. The DSDP had lots of supporters there to "rally" for PBID renewal. Only 3 brave people spoke in opposition.

Since petitions were hand distributed by the DSDP (after Briggs got paid off with PBID assessment money) and not mailed to all owners, thousands of owners probably have no idea that this renewal is even happening until they receive ballots (to be mailed by the City soon and which have to be returned to the City by May 11).

To move the process forward to balloting State law requires requesting petitions from property owners paying 50+% of weighted assessments, but only 41% of the petitions submitted requesting renewal came from private property owners. The rest came from the City's very large FY16 proposed property assessments. The City petitioned itself! Nice!

Check out the City TV Channel 24 archived video (Agenda Item 331). It's very long, but the most interesting part starts at the 4th hour mark when the City Attorney and mayoral staff try to explain why the City signed petitions. Pretty lame: that a City "non" vote would be considered a "no" vote at the petition stage but not at the ballot stage.

What about the 59% of weighted assessment to be paid by private property owners who didn't sign petitions? Aren't those considered "no" votes as well???

The new Downtown San Diego PBID formation now includes Brown Act requirements, as we'll as Financial reporting documents and contracts posted online. Plus feedback for Residents priorities for funding and Budget appropriations. These forced changes are good news for Transparency and Accountability.

http://tinyurl.com/20150224a

Laplayaheritage, a voice of reason and font of solid facts, is always appreciated.

Seems a lot of people think this is about Cory Briggs (above comments) when really it is about City Attorney Goldsmith and what he knew and when did he know it. And about whether influential people were used to get KPBS and its friends to go along with a hit piece on an attorney who has sued and won some cases against the City Attorney. Perhaps Jan Goldsmith is embarrassed? And looking for revenge? Or is he just wanting to help the Hoteliers? I don't think this side of Goldsmith came out before the election, and it is something voters should have known about earlier.

downtownrealist: Yes, sorry, I typed the wrong date. It was indeed an insider "rally," aka the City Council hearing on Feb 24 - Item 331 on the docket.

As you explain, the purpose of the hearing was to confirm receipt of legally required supportive signed, individual parcel-number-linked petitions from property owners who would pay 50(+1)% of the calculated total assessments, the only way the Council can approve the next step, a legal, binding vote on ballots mailed to every parcel owner in the proposed assessment district.

The State law is silent on whether it is allowed and proper for the City to sign the petition. When the law is silent, you can be sure Goldsmith will start talking shit. Goldsmith (and oddly, Briggs) made the excuse for the City petitioning itself, to make up the difference between 41% non-support and the 50(+1)% green light to vote to assess, by claiming that they only want to give the owners the chance to vote. That is nonsense! Why even have a law requiring approval of 50(+1)% of property owners if, when there isn't 50(+1)%, if the City plays games and forces the issue to a vote no matter what?

And of course the City and DSDP wouldn't want every property owner to know about the required support by petition: they want to suppress early opposition and understanding of the details. It's much quieter, cleaner, and safer if only insiders know about the petition.

To treat Goldsmith and Briggs with their own medicine, consider that anyone who does not vote "NO" on the final ballot is essentially voting "yes," and watch your mail for your ballot and vote "NO".

Wow, BlueSouthPark is pushing an anti-Briggs message here right along with San Diego State's "news" agencies KPBS and Inewsource, vengeful hotel barons and water-carrying GOP establishment servant City Attorney Jan Goldsmith. I haven't seen a lineup like this since, well, that time we had a firebrand Democratic mayor.

To return to the real subject, thanks to Matt Potter for bringing us truthful facts, not innuendo and allegations supported by declamations from "experts."

I don't know what you are pushing, but the subject here is Briggs and Goldsmith. You can return to any real subject you choose, but surely you should realize that I think KPBS, Inewsource, Michell, DSDP, and Goldsmith (and their buddies at VoSD) are agenda-driven hacks. But Briggs IS incompetent, a media hog, and a dupe and a jerk now, just as he was when he went after Filner and every time he filed a stupid lawsuit that had no chance of winning. This Potter report is great, but just because the lying sleazebags, Goldsmith and friends, go after someone in the dirtiest way, doesn't mean that the someone is without defects. Maybe you should watch the video of Briggs delivering his comment in front of Council last Tuesday, and reconsider my points about his stupid assessment lawsuits, AND his self-serving statement about his $50K payment with taxpayer dollars. He put himself out there, in public view, sucking up to Michell and Goldsmith, in the most curious time frame. It is worth considering this recent interaction with the same people now determined to destroy him on another front.

I am skeptical about motives of anyone who diverts attention from this story -- the first to describe what really seems to be unfolding -- and who offers instead a diatribe that trashes the only guy in town with brains, a law degree and the guts to challenge a rapacious self-serving Establishment .

Please, feel free to add something to Potter's report, if you can, rather than complaining about me and what I know! For the record, I think the sleaze and hit job being orchestrated by KPBS, Goldsmith, and the tabloid associated with KPBS are worthy of your comments. All I know about are peripheral interactions between Goldsmith and Briggs, and the timing of those actions is curious. If you are not able to see Briggs' failures in addition to his successes, that's your problem. Prove me wrong on the details of what I know about, if you want to, but don't question my motives, please! I would never question your motives. Or maybe I should? Enough, already. Write something about what Potter covered. I'd like to read your input on it.

Thanks for valuable information. Tahir Ali

They want Ian's computer?! "Have you no decency?"

BSP, I read newspapers for information, not to embroider or add to the reporter's work. Obviously you are upset and disappointed about a recent interaction between Cory Briggs and the Downtown Partnership over business improvement districts. That's not the complicated subject that Potter is exploring here and I think it's important to keep our focus.

I am sure you also want to learn details of the unfolding "case" being launched against Cory Briggs' by San Diego State "news" agencies Inewsource and KPBS in collaboration with our Dickensian City Attorney Jan Goldsmith. Goldsmith is actually acting on behalf of Tourism Management District hotel moguls whose Convention Center-building plans were thwarted by a successful Briggs lawsuit.

" I think it's important to keep our focus."

(Our focus???) I'm not part of your "our." Try to keep your focus and stop overseeing mine. In other words, write a comment and leave me out of it. Thanks.

BSP, Briggs may have had some failures, and he has certainly had some successes. I do think though, he has successfully challenged the Status Quo Group here in San Diego, and has opened a few more eyes as to how the insiders here...on both sides of the political spectrum, run this town to their own benefit.

I, for one, thank him for that.

Sounds like whoever decided what happened to Filner has decided what will happen to Briggs. Thanks, South Park. That's the message I got.

Apples and oranges. I haven't heard that Briggs has "grabby" hands like Filner did. What "happened to Filner" was Filner's own fault due to his horrendous personal behavior toward women. His removal was needed.

As apples and oranges are both fruit, so targets Filner and Briggs both made a lot of trouble for the hotel moguls who want to keep their extra tourism tax dollars without a vote of the people and to create more Convention Center. "Grabby hands" could well describe the attitude of the rogues' gallery depicted in the story.

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