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