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Why is this story even an issue? Fair to say City Attorney Mike Aguirre helped make it an issue.
I knew I remembered this story from Jan. 22, 2004 in the Union-Tribune. Thanks to the U-T archives I found it.
When Aguirre was running for his current post against former Assistant City Attorney Leslie Devaney, Aguirre blasted her for setting up a campaign fundraiser with Mike Conger, an attorney who was suing the city for underfunding the pension system. Conger, of course, went on to collect attorney fees after it was settled. Aguirre was incensed: How could Devaney collect money from someone so obviously interested in an outcome from the City Attorney’s Office.
The U-T’s Ray Huard wrote up a story:
Devaney said she would appoint a deputy city attorney to oversee contracts with outside lawyers rather than handling them herself to avoid conflicts should campaign contributors, such as Conger, have business with the city.
Devaney’s opponents questioned her letting Conger host the fund- raiser.
“We have a billion-dollar deficit in the pension plan,” Aguirre said. “This is going to be one of the most hotly contested legal issues, and the attorney on the other side is raising money for the attorney who’s supposed to be protecting the city.”
I called Conger today to confirm. He said that, yes, he had scheduled a fundraiser for Devaney. He didn’t know her well but knew her husband, former Deputy City Attorney Frank Devaney. He said they canceled the fund raiser after the U-T story ran.
In a U-T story later that year by Greg Moran, Aguirre said he would set up special protections to make sure he was free of such conflicts when he was city attorney.
Aguirre said he would set up an ethics office within the City Attorney’s Office. All potential conflict questions would be reviewed by the ethics lawyer for a “thorough legal ethics analysis,” he said.
“Whatever the ethics analyst says is the right thing to do, that’s what I will do,” Aguirre said.
The point is to make sure “we don’t have anyone expecting any special treatment because they gave, or have anyone who feels penalized because they didn’t give,” he said.