Not long ago, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith effectively conceded defeat in a legal case where he sued the San Diego City Employees’ Retirement System (SDCERS).
Ironically, the city must pay not only its own costs to bring the case to court, but also SDCERS’ legal expenses to defend itself.
As the board’s president said, “The city spent more than $4 million suing itself” — all in a failed effort.
Another legal case in progress promises to be even more expensive.
In 2005, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis charged some SDCERS board members with felonies for violating state conflict-of-interest laws. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled against her for all but one defendant. Dumanis elected to drop all charges.
Case closed? Yes, but the board members asked the city to reimburse their considerable legal defense costs in accordance with the City Council’s earlier promise to defend them.
Goldsmith fought that agreement. He lost the case at the Superior Court level in 2012. At the time, the costs to the city were estimated around $5.4 million, but higher if it chose to appeal. Goldsmith did just that, and he again lost in a unanimous judgment in December. Now he says he’s taking it to the California Supreme Court.
Goldsmith seems destined to lose in the end. If he does, the city will again pay not only its own legal expenses, but also those of its adversaries.
Principle has its place, but so does prudence. The Council would be well advised to direct Goldsmith to drop the case, pay what’s owed and avoid further unnecessary costs.
Chris Brewster is a Pacific Beach resident who leads several national and international nonprofit organizations. Brewster’s commentary has been lightly edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.