The Morning Report
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So, wow, if you like city politics and haven’t listened to the Roger Hedgecock interview with Marti Emerald, the 7th District City Council candidate, you might want to check it out.
Most people, especially coming from the right, have focused on her lack of complete clarity on whether she wants the city to raise taxes or fees. On the one hand, she’s on the record talking about how the city is desperately underfunded and should, like its peers, charge a fee for trash collection.
On the other hand, she doesn’t think it’s viable to ask residents right now to do that. They aren’t completely contradictory stances, to be honest. Though we do need to keep pressing her on it.
But enough of that for now. That’s not what I found most interesting in the interview. I called Marti today to ask about another revelation from the interview. Let’s just jump into the transcript of the relevant part of the interview:
Roger Hedgecock: You have been a highly paid member of our fraternity of media people for a long time and obviously the City Council’s salary is on your mind. Are you going to be able to live with that? $75 grand?
Marti Emerald: Yeah. You know it’s not. I think that the salary is a little above the average salary of people living in the 7th District
RH: Yes it is.
Emerald: So I have no complaints and it’s how much we spend not so much how much we make and I am economizing and looking forward to serving the people of San Diego and I think we’ll do just fine.
RH: You going to have outside employment?
Emerald: Umm. I don’t know yet. I’ve got a feeling that it’s (the City Council) going to be a big job in and of itself.
RH: There’s no question about that.
Emerald: It will be a huge job so I’m not sure that I would have time for any of that. And we’ll just see how it goes. When and if elected I intend to throw myself totally into this job and work toward getting our city going in the right direction.
RH: Again at USD last week you were alluding to doing some consulting and just so we know what we’re talking about here let’s play a little bit of that:(Plays tape recording of Emerald speaking) The salary that the City Council is pulling down is really kind of a nothing salary for what you’re doing. It’s a $2 billion, $2 and a half billion corporation here and city councilmembers are basically board members and they’re pulling down $75,000 a year. This is not a job you take to get rich it’s a job you take to do public service and $75,000, if it doesn’t cover your expenses then, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do, I’m doing consulting work and I may keep a client on and then may also teach, quite frankly. I was a journalist for 30 years and there are schools here in town who are interested in talking about these classes. So I’m going to have to suffer financially in order to serve the public but that’s OK and I accept it going in.
RH: So you were talking about doing consulting work there, which is why I asked. Whether or not —
Emerald: So that is a possibility down the road and we’re just going to see where it goes but my first priority will be serving the people of San Diego.
RH: Do you have a consulting company now?
Emerald: Yeah, Emerald Group.
RH: So you’re doing work now, obviously, campaign time when you’re not working for Channel 10 and you’ve kind of left that and sort of jumped out into this thing
Emerald: Yeah, still have to pay the rent.
RH: Still have to pay the rent. So you’re doing consulting now?
Emerald: Yes I am.
RH: You going to disclose who the clients are?
Emerald: Oh sure I disclosed and it’s public record at the City Clerk’s Office
RH: Yeah, there was a financial form but I looked at that and it didn’t have anything on it.
Emerald: It didn’t? Oh it should be there.
Stop for a second. Roger was incorrect. The California Form 700, Statement of Economic Interests, being discussed for Emerald did list one client of her consulting firm. We pulled the papers last week.
RH: Yeah the one you had to file when you went to be a candidate
RH: Yeah, you’re supposed to put stuff down there but we didn’t find anything on there.
Emerald:Well, I typed it in. I’ve got a couple of law firms that I’m working with. One is an attorney who does elder law work. And one is a large consumer law firm called Coughlin Stoia.
Roger then breaks for a commercial and comes back to the issue. But let’s take another breather for a minute. Coughlin Stoia is Coughlin Stoia Geller & Rudman. It used to be better known as Lerach, Coughlin. That’s William Lerach to be clear. Lerach, of course, separated from the firm in August of last year while under investigation by federal prosecutors. Lerach was sentenced to two years in prison several weeks ago for actions involving the firm he served before Coughlin — Milberg Weiss:
Authorities said Lerach’s former firm, now known as Milberg Weiss, made an estimated $250 million in two decades by filing legal actions on behalf of professional plaintiffs who received kickbacks. …
The kickback scheme allowed the firm’s attorneys to be among the first to file litigation and secure the lucrative position as lead plaintiffs’ counsel, according to court documents.
Anyway, of course I asked Emerald about all of this, but, again, more on that later. For now, back to the transcript. Hedgecock asked Emerald about a poll her campaign had done that asked residents some interesting questions.
RH … You were mentioning about the consulting firm and law firms that you represent. In your poll, you asked the question. … Marti Emerald says she will stand up to special interests but she is working for one of the biggest special interests in the state, the trial lawyers, in fact she is helping them by giving kickbacks to the plaintiffs in class action suits. That’s a question from your poll. Why would you ask a question like that?
Emerald: (Pauses) Because it — it may have come up as an accusation about me. It’s not true but it may come up and we wanted to test it.
RH: So if someone said that you were giving kickbacks to plaintiffs in class action suits or your attorneys you were representing in the consulting firm that would not be true?
Like I said, Emerald did disclose Coughlin Stoia’s business on her Form 700. I called her today to get a little more. She said she signed with the firm to help them with public relations efforts in September, a couple of weeks after Lerach left the firm. She began working, she said, in late September, early October.
She said the firm paid her $28,000 for work she did from that point until the end of the year. She said she’s been working with them about 20 hours a month.
And what did she do? She said she didn’t do anything related to work helping the firm deal with the fallout from Lerach’s legal troubles. She said she helps the firm’s San Francisco-based spokesman, Dan Newman, with efforts in San Diego.
“He doesn’t have good media connections in San Diego and I fill in the gaps working with number of lawyers spreading information about issues they work on in community or cases they’re litigating where they’d like to have little more local exposure,” Emerald said.
I asked again to be sure: Emerald said clearly she did not work with the firm to help it deal with the Lerach controversy.
I had the same question then: Why in the world would she ask voters what they would think about her being involved in some kind of kickback scheme for plaintiff’s attorneys?
“We were covering our bases in the sense of accusations that might be made. We didn’t do a push poll. We asked positive and negative questions about myself and Ms. (April) Boling. We were laying out issues that aren’t true, necessarily, but might be raised to attack me,” she said.
OK, finally, the other big issue with this: Is she seriously considering holding outside jobs while being a city councilmember? I mean, it’s one thing to complain about “suffering financially” to serve the public. It’s another to serve notice that you’re going to be getting a second job or even two other side jobs.
I asked about her comments that she would be holding a consulting gig while on the City Council.
She said she didn’t say that. I read her comments back and she clarified:
“If it works into my schedule doesn’t take time away from my main job representing the 7th District, I might do some work. Right now the contracts I have expire in the fall and I don’t have plans to continue them,” she said.
She said the other client she mentioned, who does “elder law” was Scott Stewart.
Some of Emerald’s critics have alleged that working a second job while being a city official would be illegal. I’ll have to check on that.
For her part, Emerald isn’t worried.
“If say I was a consultant, who wanted to do business with the city, that would get me into trouble. That’s my understanding,” she said.
We’ll follow up on that and on her points about taxes.