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As we mentioned earlier, in order to get a search warrant, you need to prove probable cause that a felony crime was committed. The City Attorney’s Office, however, deals in misdemeanors. The District Attorney’s Office handles felonies.

But then there are such things as “wobblers” — cases that can be prosecuted by either the city attorney or the district attorney.

City Attorney Mike Aguirre’s Sunroad search warrant is based on alleged misdemeanor violations of the city’s lobbying laws (specifically that Sunroad exec Tom Story violated the one-year lobbying prohibition for former city employees). But there is one felony allegation of conspiracy:

Further, there is probable cause to believe that certain City staff and officials, as well as the Sunroad executives who hired Story, participated in and or committed acts in furtherance of a conspiracy to violate the San Diego Ethics Ordinance …

In the legal community, that’s known as bootstrapping — tacking on a felony charge in order to get a search warrant. And police say they didn’t buy it.

Bill Maheu, executive assistance chief, was the first to deal with the search warrant. “I did not see a conspiracy,” he told me this afternoon.

Chief William Lansdowne then agreed, he said. As did the district attorney and attorney general.

“The community gives law enforcement privilege to do these things such as serve warrants. With that comes responsibility. We cannot violate that responsibility. There’s nothing wrong with asking questions,” Maheu said.

Aguirre said the tactic was sound, and said more details will be released later. “It’s not something that’s done everyday, but [investigator Kim Urie] called around to a bunch of other city attorney’s offices, and that’s where she got the idea,” he said.

ANDREW DONOHUE

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