San Diego Mayor Bob Filner has hired a high-powered criminal defense attorney in a federal probe involving a Kearny Mesa development, according to two people with knowledge of the situation.

Filner has hired Jerry Coughlan, who has represented numerous local political figures involved in recent criminal cases, while federal investigators dig into an alleged quid-pro-quo involving city land and a since-returned donation from developer Sunroad to two Filner pet projects in the city.

No charges have been brought in the case and news reports have said FBI agents are questioning those involved in various city land deals.

Coughlan’s probably best known for successfully defending former City Councilman Mike Zucchet in a federal corruption trial that ended in 2010. He also has represented former pension board member and firefighter union president Ron Saathoff and convicted former redevelopment chief Carolyn Smith in their corruption cases. He was on the short-list to be the region’s top federal prosecutor before the job went to Laura Duffy in 2009.

Coughlan couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

A spokesman for City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said the city was unaware the mayor had an attorney in the Sunroad case, and confirmed that no taxpayer dollars were being spent on Coughlan.

Coughlan’s hiring means that Filner has at least two personal attorneys to deal with his legal troubles. Filner hired local employment lawyer Harvey Berger to represent him in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by his former spokeswoman, Irene McCormack. Last week, the City Council unanimously voted down Filner’s request for legal fees and sued Filner for the city’s liability in that case.

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Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

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