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Just Wondering




Bob Filner (r) and Jan Goldsmith

Yesterday’s Los Angeles Times brought a behind the scenes account of the genius of San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith and his brilliant maneuvers to oust former Mayor Bob Filner.

I’m not sure what led to the piece, but in it we learn that Goldsmith—a former legislator best known for his campaign to legalize ferrets and the resulting Willie Brown quip about his toupee—was single-handedly responsible for Filner’s resignation.

The key: “Goldsmith persuaded the City Council to refuse to defend Filner in the [Irene] Jackson lawsuit and instead force him to hire private attorneys.”

Why so critical? “Goldsmith’s investigators examined Filner’s finances and concluded he could not afford lawyers to fight the lawsuit.”

Why so brilliant? “’It was a bluff,’ said Goldsmith, noting that California law requires a public employer to represent an employee, even a mayor, accused of on-the-job-misdeeds.”

Why should we care? Well, it seems to me San Diego’s city attorney has told us he a) directed his staff to investigate the personal finances of an elected official; and b) knowingly lied to other elected officials about the law so as to induce them to take a possibly illegal action.

The first is something I’m not so sure any city attorney has the right to do. Such investigations would be a part of any criminal matter, but charges against Filner were brought by San Diego’s district attorney and the state attorney general. The city attorney’s actions might also be part of a competent defense of the mayor, but as Goldsmith tells us, his genius was in not defending Filner, even though that may be against the law.

The second point is a more serious matter. This almost certainly violates general ethical standards, as described by the American Bar Association and California League of Cities. It could be considered malpractice. California even has statutes about attorney deceit.

Goldsmith considers it brilliant enough to mention to the Times. He might also want to mention it to a lawyer. If he can afford one.

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