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The City Attorney’s Office went into defensive mode today over an investigation into Mike Aguirre by the state Bar. One element of that investigation, reported in today’s Union-Tribune, focuses on whether or not Aguirre went beyond the authority given to him by the City Council in a lawsuit related to the city of San Diego’s pension crisis.

There’s a document out there that will presumably clear all that up. That’s the transcript of a closed-session meeting the City Council had back in August 2005, in which they either did, or did not, vote to give Aguirre authority to pursue the suit on their behalf. The state Bar investigators have asked to see that transcript, and the City Council is meeting in closed session today to decide if it should waive its attorney client privilege and give the investigators the document.

Executive Assistant City Attorney Don McGrath held a press conference today to make the claim that whether or not the City Council decides to release the document is irrelevant to the state Bar investigation anyway.

McGrath said Aguirre had the authority, under the city charter, to bring the suit in the name of the city without getting the permission of the City Council.

Then he pointed to a June 2006 ruling by a judge that says Mayor Jerry Sanders wanted the case to proceed and that the City Council had “taken no public action to indicate there was no authority given” to Aguirre. In other words, he said, the council clearly wanted Aguirre to pursue the case.

The only person who wanted Aguirre off the case was City Council President Scott Peters, McGrath said. McGrath said Peters has resurrected the issue of the state Bar investigation to coincide with his announcement that he will run against Aguirre for city attorney. McGrath pointed to a September 2006 notice from in which the council president withdrew his motion to disqualify Aguirre from the case as proof that even Peters had given up on the issue.

McGrath said he told the state Bar investigator looking into Aguirre all of these things. He said the investigator first told him that, based on McGrath’s presentation, he didn’t need to see the transcript any more. The investigator then changed his mind, McGrath said.

At that point, the press conference got a bit weird.

The Union-Tribune’s Alex Roth asked McGrath whether the investigators are going to conclude Aguirre did nothing wrong.

“Yes, on all counts, and I thought that that was about to happen,” McGrath said. “I will say there’s somebody at the top who’s pushing their buttons and I’m sure it’s a great political thing to hang this over his head. It could be fatal, we’ll see.”

The reporters wanted more on that one. We pushed McGrath. Was he saying the state Bar in some way trying to smear Aguirre via its investigation?

“I don’t know who’s on the board, but there’s board members of that state Bar who would probably wish to have this go on forever, I suppose. For political reasons. … I don’t think there’s anything that happens at the state Bar level that the State Bar Board doesn’t control. If they don’t want it to happen, it doesn’t happen”

Roth asked McGrath if he thinks someone on the state Bar board is controlling the investigation.

“There’s a position that’s been taken by the investigator that he would like to drop the action, but he cannot. Somebody’s pressuring him to keep moving, in spite of the evidence that he’s been given.”

Wow. The reporters really had their ears pricked up by this point. How did McGrath know that? I asked him.

“He told me, the state Bar investigator, but that’s the end of that,” McGrath said.

That wasn’t the end of that. Roth asked McGrath if the state Bar investigator had told him he had been pressured to end the investigation.

“No, no no,” McGrath said. “I didn’t say that. He indicated that he would like to drop the whole thing, that he was satisfied. He went away, then came back again and now we’re where we are.”

So he wasn’t pressured? I asked.

“No, no, nobody’s saying that,” he said.

WILL CARLESS

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