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District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis has decided her office will consider prosecuting Thomas Story, an executive at the center of last year’s scandal over the Sunroad Enterprises office tower in Kearny Mesa that violated Federal Aviation Authority safety standards.
Story was originally prosecuted by City Attorney Mike Aguirre on allegations of violating the city’s lobbying laws, but Aguirre was thrown off the case last year after a judge ruled he had crossed ethical lines in handling the case.
And on Friday, Aguirre got thrown off the case for good after losing an appeal, leaving the case in a prosecutorial vacuum.
It appeared at that time that Dumanis wouldn’t be involved. After Friday’s court hearing, the city’s Chief Operating Officer Jay Goldstone sent this memo to Council President Scott Peters. The memo states:
The Attorney General and District Attorney’s Office have stated for jurisdictional and discretionary reasons they decline to prosecute.
Goldstone’s memo requested that the City Council consider hiring a special prosecutor, essentially the only option left, since no one else would take the case.
So, at today’s council session, Mayor Jerry Sanders went to the City Council to ask them to appoint a special prosecutor to go after Story. The council reached a deadlock on the decision, voting 4-4. That means no special prosecutor will be appointed.
The case was in a prosecutorial vacuum again.
Then, this afternoon, I received a statement from Dumanis. The statement reads as follows:
The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office has no jurisdiction over Municipal Code Violations. However, in light of the fact that the City Attorney has been recused from the criminal case and the San Diego City Council today failed to take action to hire a special prosecutor, the DA’s Office stands ready to assist the criminal prosecution against Thomas Story. The District Attorney’s Office will review the available options and take appropriate action in time for the April 30th trial date.
So the DA is willing to take the case? I called Fred Sainz, the mayor’s spokesman to see what he had to say about that.
“This is definitely a reversal on Bonnie’s behalf,” Sainz told me.
Sainz said Dumanis has made it clear for the past year or so that her office would not prosecute Story, and that the best way forward was to hire a special prosecutor.
So I called Steve Walker, a spokesman for Dumanis, to ask why the DA had had a change of heart. But Walker said the District Attorney’s position has been the same all along. He said Dumanis has always said that her office stands ready to prosecute Story if it is needed.
If anyone at the Mayor’s Office or elsewhere didn’t realize that, it was a misunderstanding on their part, Walker said. He said Dumanis called Sanders on Friday and told him that if the City Council didn’t appoint a special prosecutor, Dumanis would step in.
“Bonnie told me that after Friday’s hearing, she called the mayor and said we stand ready to assist, but this isn’t really our jurisdiction and she advised him to hire a special prosecutor,” Walker said.
When I called Sainz back, he said that the mayor had, indeed, had that conversation with Dumanis on Friday. But he reiterated that Dumanis’ move to consider prosecuting Story is a reversal of what she has been saying in public for more than a year.
“We had to take her at her word,” Sainz said.
Just to clarify one thing, Dumanis hasn’t said that she’s definitely going to prosecute Story.
Walker told me that the District Attorney’s Office will be considering: a) Whether the DA has the jurisdiction to take the case, as it was brought under the San Diego Municipal Code and b) Whether the case has merit and should be prosecuted.