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In the first of two public hearings, the City Council debated this afternoon whether City Attorney Mike Aguirre should have to get council approval before filing most cases.

The proposal, which Council President Scott Peters and Councilman Ben Hueso offered and the council first approved 6-2 in March, mandated council approval before the city auditor paid any expenses resulting from litigation the city attorney files. It expired at the end of last month when the fiscal year ended.

The council is scheduled to vote after a second public hearing July 30 whether to extend the proposal for fiscal year 2008, which began July 1.

Aguirre wholeheartedly objected to the proposal in a memo today, stating that adoption of such language would violate the state law allowing the city attorney to file suits for violations of the California False Claims Act. The memo also states the city charter grants him authority to file claims independent of council oversight.

Councilman Jim Madaffer expressed exasperation with Aguirre, and motioned that his memo be reviewed by the attorney general to ensure it accurately summarizes state law. “I’m surprised but not surprised we received this at 9:21 p.m. on Friday,” he said. “I am troubled that once again — time and time again — we are getting legal advice with no time to review.”

The proposal is part of the annual appropriations ordinance, which adopts the budget the council approved last month.

The proposal’s language is not well-defined, said Councilwoman Donna Frye. “I find it interesting that in trying to rein in one branch of government, in this case the judiciary, it’s done through the appropriations ordinance. It’s quite harsh as far as its ability to want to control,” she said.

Aguirre and a council majority have battled over the city attorney’s ability to file lawsuits unilaterally since the he took office in 2004.

NINA PETERSEN-PERLMAN

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