Most people, when they find themselves facing serious legal problems, turn to a good attorney for help. However, many San Diegans do not realize we already have an elected City Attorney: Mara Elliott.
Looking around, they see a lot of lawlessness at City Hall and in their neighborhoods, and the news is full of reports about the city’s mountain of legal defeats. It’s hard to imagine any elected official failing to the point that the public doesn’t realize someone actually holds the office. That, unfortunately, is where the city of San Diego finds itself today.
But the worst part of so many legal problems and so much lawlessness is the public’s loss of confidence in government to maintain and improve San Diegans’ quality of life. Elliott’s role in causing that loss of confidence is nothing short of scandalous.
What exactly should a good City Attorney be doing? In theory the job has three roles: advising the Mayor and City Council on policy matters, defending the city in court, and prosecuting criminals. Whichever role the City Attorney plays at any given moment, the goal is always the same: making sure everyone is following the law.
In this regard, Elliott has failed miserably — by operating secretively and allowing politics to dictate her legal advice. I want to fix that, which is why I’m running to be the next City Attorney.
For more than 20 years, I have served as the legal advocate for regular members of the public in a variety of lawsuits against the government, always taking the public’s side. The cases usually involve exposing government secrecy and backroom deals, making sure important government decisions that require voter approval are put to the voters, preventing environmental harm or the waste of taxpayer money, and prosecuting public officials’ misconduct.
Some of these cases have been filed against the city because it is one of the biggest law-breakers. If the City Attorney’s office had been doing its job by giving straight-up, non-political legal advice, most of the cases would have never been filed.
Elliott has ignored the law and turned a blind eye to serious illegal conduct. Why? It’s because she’s willing to aid and abet, and sometimes even mastermind, that conduct. Here are some examples.
This pattern of behavior amounts to a serious dereliction of duty and is a key reason why the public has lost confidence in City Hall. If elected as City Attorney, I will fix it immediately.
On my first day in office, I will establish an Anti-Corruption Unit to prosecute government corruption, such as money laundering, illegal lobbying, conflicts of interest, and other forms of graft; and establish a Quality-of-Life Unit to prosecute businesses illegally profiting from the harm they inflict on our neighborhoods, such as scooter and vacation-rental companies, slum lords, and illegal pot shops.
I will also establish a Residents’ Advisory Council to provide input into and oversight of the City Attorney’s office. I want the public actively involved in making sure the office’s prosecutorial work is focused on the city’s most pressing issues as the residents see them, not as special interests see them.
My work as a public advocate has made me some enemies — mostly among the power-brokers at City Hall, along with a few in the media who do their bidding. Frankly, I’m proud of that. Having enemies like them means I’m doing something right by always following the law without regard to politics, being fully transparent, and taking the public’s side. And it also allows me to be the only candidate who refuses to take campaign donations from lobbyists.
If elected as City Attorney, the nature of my work will not change. I will remain apolitical, with a singular focus on enforcing the law and looking out for the public.
Cory Briggs is a public advocacy lawyer who is campaigning to be elected City Attorney of San Diego in 2020.