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Monday, March 31, 2008 | The recent article, “Scott Peters, Lawyer,” discusses the career of one of the candidates for San Diego city attorney. What the article doesn’t attempt to address is the related question of just what skills and experience should we voters be looking for as we evaluate candidates for this office.
My sense of the office, and currently I’m working in it as a prosecutor, is that voters will be best served by a person with training and experience in the following areas of law.
1.) Contracts: The city of San Diego enters into numerous contracts each year that are negotiated, drafted, or reviewed by the City Attorney’s Office. The voters may well want to know just what sort of training and experience a candidate has in transactional law. How many multi-million dollar contracts has the candidate drafted and negotiated in his or her career? Using as an example the one hundred million dollar plus contracts in 1995, 1997, and in 1998 between the city and the Chargers and city and the Padres, what problems can the candidates identify with these contracts and why can we as voters expect that a candidate would do better in drafting them than did John Witt or Casey Gwinn?
2.) Torts: Millions of dollars in claims are filed against the city every year. What experience does each of the candidates have in tort law? Has a candidate ever litigated a major tort case?
3.) Criminal Law: The city files more than 40,000 criminal cases each year. The criminal division budget is almost a third of the City Attorney’s total budget. So, given the importance of this activity, what training and experience do the candidates have in criminal law?
4.) CEQA: The California Environmental Quality Act was enacted decades ago by California voters. Its rules and regulations come up again and again in city business. Have the candidates ever litigated a major CEQA case? Do the candidates have written opinions regarding CEQA issues that the public can review?
5.) Appellate practice: The city is constantly involved with appeals of legal issues. Have the candidates ever written an appellate brief? Since filed briefs are public record, will the candidates provide copies for voters to evaluate?
6.) Municipal Law: What training do the candidates have in municipal law? What is the difference between a Charter City and a General Law City in California? Have the candidates ever litigated a case in which municipal law issues were critical? Did they file legal briefs, which, again, are public records and so would be available for review.
7.) Law Office Management: The City Attorney’s Office constitutes one of the largest law firms in our city. What training and experience do the candidates have in law office management? Have they ever been a managing partner in a law firm — a firm with more than two or three lawyers?
8.) Continuing Education: California mandates that lawyers keep their legal skills up to date. In the last five years, how many hours of legal education has each of the candidates completed and in what areas of study?
This list doesn’t attempt to be exhaustive. One could add many other important subjects such as the American Disabilities Act, the Unruh Act, etc. To the extent that candidates have specific training and experience in areas of the law that are particularly important to the city, candidates ought to be asked to list and discuss them.
A doctor might be the best pediatrician in San Diego, but chances are you are going to want some other doctor with quite different training and experience to perform brain surgery on you.
The job of San Diego city attorney is no different. Training and experience is critical. Getting that information to us is the job of the press.