City Attorney Mike Aguirre just told me that he fired William “Wink” Donnell, a veteran civil attorney at the City Attorney’s Office, after Donnell attempted to intercept a letter from a law firm in Los Angeles to Aguirre alleging that Donnell had been misusing his position at the City Attorney’s Office.
The letter, which was received by the City Attorney’s Office on Wednesday, claims that Donnell “under color of authority from the San Diego City Attorney’s office” made various threats against an individual called Ryan Stewart. Donnell, in an interview, denied making the threats.
Aguirre said Donnell, however, intercepted a copy of the letter that had been mailed to the City Attorney’s Office, removing it from a pile of mail that was addressed to Aguirre. Donnell admitted intercepting the letter.
But the lawyer faxed Aguirre a second copy of the letter, the city attorney said, and he decided to fire Donnell after realizing that his employee had attempted to stop the letter from reaching him and after reading the allegations being made in the letter.
“That was a serious allegation of wrongdoing which he had a duty to bring to my attention, not to conceal by removing a letter that was addressed to me,” Aguirre said.
Donnell did not dispute that he had intercepted the letter. But he said he had done so to keep Aguirre from having to deal with a matter that Donnell says is entirely personal and not professional or related to his work as a city attorney.
He acknowledges that he spoke to Stewart on the telephone, but denies threatening him. He said Stewart has been involved in vicious litigation against a company his son, Jay Donnell is employed by, and that he called Stewart to talk to him about the lawsuit.
Aguirre’s opponent for city attorney, Jan Goldsmith, has used the firing of Donnell to attack Aguirre’s management of the City Attorney’s Office. Early this morning, Goldsmith’s campaign team sent out a press release stating that the firing of Donnell shows Aguirre “continues to decimate the City Attorney’s office in his quest to deny San Diego quality legal services.”
Here’s a quote from Goldsmith that was on the press release:
“Attorneys fired at this point likely will be offered their jobs back in December,” Judge Goldsmith said. “They will be subject to the same transition process of review as any other attorney in the office, but any firings at this point by Mr. Aguirre will be presumed to be irrational and destructive.
I just called Goldsmith to ask about the letter Aguirre claims provoked the dismissal.
“I don’t know anything about this. It sounds more like the sort of conduct that Mr. Aguirre engages in,” Goldsmith said.
Goldsmith told me that, if he had received the letter as city attorney, he wouldn’t have immediately fired Donnell by “leaving a letter on his doorstep at 5 p.m.” Goldsmith said he would have started an immediate internal investigation into the affair.
“I certainly would give him a chance to refute it,” Goldsmith said.