City Attorney-elect Jan Goldsmith today said that he plans to drop the foreclosure-related lawsuits that City Attorney Mike Aguirre brought earlier this year.
Goldsmith, a day after trouncing Aguirre at the polls, said the lawsuit brought against Countrywide Financial Corp. was rendered moot by a settlement reached between Bank of America, which recently acquired Countrywide, and California Attorney General Jerry Brown.
“That is a broader responsibility than the focus of this office,” he said. “Those cases will be gone.”
On Aguirre’s other flagship litigation, the pension lawsuit, Goldsmith has been careful to say that the correct way to proceed with the case is to provide the City Council and mayor with a cost-benefit analysis of the issue and to allow the city’s elected officials to decide whether to pursue it or not. He has said it’s not his job, as the city’s lawyer, to decide which lawsuits to pursue, only to advise the executive branch of the city.
But at today’s press conference, Goldsmith indicated that he has already made a decision on the lawsuits. Earlier this year, the City Council refused to endorse Aguirre’s foreclosure lawsuits, but he proceeded with the cases anyway.
Goldsmith said that, in addition to being outside the scope of the office, Aguirre’s Countrywide lawsuit, in which the city attorney claims that Countrywide used predatory lending practices, merely duplicates lawsuits already under way by the state attorney general and others.
“We will provide whatever information we have to the Attorney General’s Office and they will take whatever steps are necessary,” Goldsmith said. “San Diego taxpayers cannot and should not take on that burden.”
Last month the United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation transferred the remaining lawsuits against Countrywide to San Diego, something Aguirre considered quite a coup at the time. He said the decision moved the “center of gravity” for the litigation to San Diego.
With Aguirre’s lawsuits now about to be dropped, it will be interesting to see if the other lawsuits still end up being heard here.
According to the transfer document filed by the judicial panel, San Diego was chosen for three reasons: Two of the cases in the docket were filed in the Southern California district, Countrywide’s home base is in Southern California and the courts here have “the capacity to handle this litigation.”
One of those three reasons will be weakened as soon as Goldsmith takes office.
At the same press conference, Goldsmith said he has begun interviewing lawyers to serve as senior partners in the “municipal law firm” he is building. He said he has also sent memos to all staffers at the office asking each employee to describe the sort of work they have been doing and the work they would like to be doing.
And Goldsmith used the occasion to announce that he has named Andrew Jones head of the civil litigation department of the City Attorney’s Office. Jones, who has worked at the City Attorney’s office for more than 11 years, endorsed Goldmsith against his boss, Aguirre.