City Spending Millions On Private Lawyers

City Of San Diego Spent More Than $34 Million On Private Lawyers Since July 2006

A joint investigation by the 10News I-Team and San Diego State University's Watchdog Institute revealed massive spending by the city of San Diego to defend itself during lawsuits.

Despite having more than 130 lawyers on staff, since July 2006, the city of San Diego has spent more than $34 million on private lawyers.

"It was extraordinarily expensive," said former city attorney Mike Aguirre. "It was beyond imagination."

During his time as city attorney from 2004 to 2008, Aguirre hired private lawyers to defend the city from victims of the Mount Soledad landslide and from the city's own police union, which sued over pension benefits.

When asked why he hired private lawyers so often, Aguirre said one case in particular answered that question. That case involved developer Roque d la Fuente, who sued the city over breach of contract.

"We used outside counsel because the people that were suing us were some of the best attorneys in the state and had a $100 million gun at our head," said Aguirre.

In fiscal year 2007, his last year in office, Aguirre spent $8.7 million on private lawyers.

San Diego's current city attorney, Jan Goldsmith spent $6 million on outside counsel in fiscal year 2009.

Goldsmith said there are only two reasons to hire private lawyers: to prevent a conflict of interest or if he thinks someone else can do a better job representing the city. Goldsmith also said he thinks taxpayer money was wasted on outside counsel.

Aguirre said he defended the city from irresponsible decisions made by elected leaders.

A report released by San Diego's auditor found the city could have prevented 14 lawsuits related to dangerous conditions. The report said the lawsuits were often filed because problems were ignored and someone got hurt.

Goldsmith said a new case tracking system, which was installed two months ago, will help the city deal with problems and act on them.

Read the Watchdog Institute's in-depth report by visiting www.watchdoginstitute.org/2010/12/09/san-diego-city-claims/.