Briggs launches campaign for city attorney against Elliott

Attorney Cory Briggs, a frequent critic of San Diego City Hall who has won high-profile lawsuits against the city, announced Monday that he will challenge incumbent City Attorney Mara Elliott in 2020.

The announcement comes two months after Briggs dropped out of the 2020 mayor’s race. Briggs, 50, had never run for political office until this year.

Briggs said by phone that city voters should elect him to replace Elliott because she is not committed to government transparency and allows politics to affect the legal advice she gives to elected decision-makers.

“The mayor and the City Council want to do things right, but they don’t have a competent legal firm to help them in that endeavor,” Briggs said. “The public deserves that.”

Elliott, 50, plans to run for re-election on what she calls a “stellar record of accomplishment protecting San Diego,” including efforts curbing gun violence and elder abuse.

Her campaign consultant, Dan Rottenstreich, said by email that Elliott is ready for any challenger and that Briggs, who is often characterized as a troublemaker by critics, is facing an uphill battle.

“He’s a millionaire shopping around for political office and he’s going to find out that winning the people’s trust is a lot more difficult than suing them,” Rottenstreich said.

Briggs, who lives in Point Loma, said the criticism he often faces is the result of him holding accountable public officials supported by powerful downtown business leaders.

“It’s normal operating procedure when somebody blows the whistle and calls a foul that the downtown crowd launches personal attacks,” Briggs said. “It’s a good thing if the downtown crowd doesn’t like me, because that means the residents and citizens are being protected.”

Briggs criticized Elliott for seeking to block two ballot measures focused on the city’s Mission Valley stadium site, including one sponsored by San Diego State boosters that was approved by voters last fall.

Elliott’s unsuccessful efforts on the measures have cost taxpayers nearly $600,000.

Briggs also criticized Elliott for backing legislation that would have made it harder to acquire public records in California.

“She tried to gut the most important transparency legislation we have in this state,” he said.

Elliott said earlier this year that the legislation would accelerate access to records while limiting lawsuits from unintentional withholding of documents. In the face of strong criticism, she backed away from the proposal.

Elliott, who lives in Scripps Ranch, was considered an underdog during the 2016 city attorney’s race, but finished second in the primary and easily won a November runoff.

While incumbents rarely lose elections in San Diego, two council incumbents were defeated last fall and incumbent City Attorney Mike Aguirre lost his re-election bid to Jan Goldsmith in 2008.

Briggs has gained local prominence primarily by suing the city frequently over transparency and other issues. He has lost in court many times but also has some notable victories.

In 2014, a state Appeals Court ruled the city’s funding plan to expand the waterfront convention center was illegal based on a lawsuit involving Briggs. The expansion has been on hold ever since.

Briggs, who has roughly 20 ongoing lawsuits against San Diego, would be prevented by state and local ethics laws from suing the city if elected. He would also have to remove himself as attorney from all of those cases.