City Attorney Mike Aguirre will begin arguing the first portion of San Diego’s ongoing pension trial Monday, following the presiding judge’s denial of a request Aguirre made today to empanel a jury as early as next week.
Employee groups made short order of their part in the trial’s opening phase, calling just four witnesses in less than three days before resting. Aguirre asked Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Barton to rule that attorneys for the unions and other city workers did not prove that the case shouldn’t proceed.
Barton denied Aguirre’s request, and the city attorney will begin examining witnesses such as Jack McGrory, the former city manager who proposed the 1996 pension deal that Aguirre is attacking, and Judie Italiano, the general manager for the city’s white-collar union.
At issue in the first phase of this trial are legal questions about whether the case can be tried or resolved as Aguirre envisions it. For example, lawyers for the unions have raised arguments that past legal settlements have barred Aguirre’s claims from being heard or, at the very least, would shrink the stakes of the case from about $500 million to $40 million.
Aguirre argued that his opponents were unable to prove that there were significant obstacles that would prevent the trial from moving onto a jury trial, where he could square off with the employees over the legality of the benefits that were included in deals struck between the city in 1996 and 2002. The judge said he wanted to hear more before considering whether to push the case to trial.
After Thursday’s hearing, Italiano applauded the judge for not rushing the case to a jury trial. Union leaders have been skeptical of a jury trial, arguing that the well-publicized case involves complex legal matters.
“The city attorney has had a full year to set the stage so that not one citizen does not already have an opinion on the pension case,” she said. “The city may have its day in court, but we want employees to have a fair day in court.”