In Filner case, tangled tale of four GOP leaning judges

By representing himself in court, Democrat Filner steps into a clubby world of Republican judicial cash and big business ties

San Diego mayor Bob Filner - who appeared before San Diego Superior Court judge Timothy B. Taylor today to unsuccessfully argue against an expedited hearing of the lawsuit brought against him by hotel moguls - is more familiar with the halls of Congress than the tangled netherworld of the local judicial benches of both state and national government.

Though Taylor's ultimate decision in the case is far from certain, and last month he ruled against the city's so-called Plaza de Panama project - effectively killing it when San Diego's richest man and Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs pulled his long promised cash from the deal - Filner's legal road is virtually sure to be crowded with plenty of insider intrigue, most of it of the Republican variety.

Even in his historic ruling against the city in the Jacobs case, Taylor expressed sympathy with its plight:

The loss of the generous funding offered by [Jacobs] will be a sad day for San Diego, because no other funding source has been identified, and the City's own perilous (and partially self-inflicted) financial problems have been well documented and likely preclude public funding of any significant alternative project.

The elderly Jacobs is a liberal-leaning Democrat, a multi-million dollar donor to Barack Obama, and not especially well loved by the local GOP establishment.

The same cannot be said for C. Terry Brown, Bill Evans, and Richard Bartell, the triumvirate of well-connected hotel magnates who are the apparent prime movers behind the lawsuit against Filner.

Appointed judge here in January 2005 by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Taylor was a lawyer for two decades with the big firm Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, which frequently lobbies city hall for well-heeled corporate clients. The Association of Business Trial Lawyers of San Diego described his path to judicial power in its Fall 2012 newsletter:

Prior to taking the bench, Judge Taylor practiced as a civil litigator in environmental, unfair competition, and trade regulation actions, frequently representing large companies.

His favorite part of being a litigator was oral argument with an active bench, and he considers a hotly contested law and motion calendar as a highlight of his current assignment.

First, he is prepared and likes to be active in oral argument. Sometimes this is confused with (or, on occasion, overlaps with) impatience with attorneys, but he views oral argument as an active exchange of argument and ideas.

Taylor has often ruled for big business; in April of last year, he tossed a complaint against a Walmart complex at the old Farmers Market building between Sherman Heights and Logan Heights that plaintiffs claimed hadn't received sufficient environmental review.

Taylor's background bears more than a few similarities to that of San Diego Republican city attorney Jan Goldsmith, an advocate of the wealthy hoteliers who have helped pay for his political campaigns for decades.

Goldsmith, who like Taylor was a resident of tony Coronado before Goldsmith moved into a small apartment across the bay to run for city attorney, was appointed a judge here in December 1998 by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, the former mayor of San Diego who also was cozy with the hotel moguls here and derived heavy campaign funding from them.

Reported the Union-Tribune at the time:

During summer legislative hearings on scandals uncovered in Wilson's Department of Corrections, Goldsmith was the top defender of the administration, aggressively questioning critics of Wilson.

And Goldsmith and Taylor have at least one more thing in common: their wives are both judges.

Christine Goldsmith, a former deputy district attorney, was appointed to what was then the Municipal Court bench here in January 1987 by Republican Gov. George Deukmejian.

In 1986, she sued Goldsmith for divorce, alleging in part that he:

began yelling and screaming at me in obviously uncontrolled anger. He then gave me a hard shove in the chest and cocked his fist in an extremely threatening manner. All of this appeared in front of the children causing them to be extremely upset and telling their father not to hit their mother. He then began throwing items off the kitchen counter in his continuing rage. I could not leave at that time without further aggravating the situation and exposing myself to potentially further harm.

The next day, she said, she slept at her sister’s house with the children.

I am afraid to go back to the house the Respondent is still there as I feel his anger may once again get the best of him and he may, in fact, cause physical danger to myself and irreparable harm to both myself and our minor children.

The couple subsequently reconciled and the divorce case quickly terminated.

Taylor's wife is U.S. Bankruptcy court presiding judge Laura Taylor, who was named to the court by the 9th District Court of Appeals in September 2007.

She, like her husband, was a lawyer with Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton.

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Yikes. Two thoughts: My wife would've snatched him bald. Oh. Wait. He is. It's really, really hard being a judge in San Diego and keeping strait on the law and politics. And on where you've placed, or may someday place, your allegiances.

Why did Mayor Filner have to represent himself? Did the City Attorney refuse? In that case, is Mayor Filner entitled to a Public Defender?

This is really beyond imagination. Didn't I just read that these hotel people who are suing didn't even bother to vote for the TMD at the time. This is San Diego. What next?

Has it not occurred to anyone that divorce filings are nearly always over dramatized? Was there a nasty fight? Probably. Do many couples have nasty fights? You bet. The "hard shove" was certainly uncalled for.

What is unsaid is what she might have done to provoke it. Women have been known to use physicality, too.

Regardless, what is clear is the city is going to go through a mirror image replay of the circus it saw when Sanders and Aguirre went at it for the next two years at least.

Matt, What kind of legal/political record does Judge Ronald S. Prager have? His tentative ruling on the TMD validation suit s/b posted by 4 pm today.

In the Navy Broadway Complex case, Judge Ronald Prager ruled that San Diego does not have any State-recognized Seismic Hazards including liquefaction and active to a lack of digital State Seismic Hazard Maps. See Pages 22 - 23.

The Convention Center Special Tax hearing has been rescheduled to March 13, 2013 at 10 am.

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