Mara Elliott
San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott. Photo by Chris Stone

By Mara W. Elliott

The campaign to vindicate Councilman Chris Cate for his misconduct in leaking a confidential city memo hit a new low when Times of San Diego published the outlandish conspiracy theories of Raoul Lowery Contreras.

Contreras must have been motivated by partisanship when he wrote his commentary because he obviously has no understanding of the case itself.

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His whole premise is that I care about attorney-client confidentiality — and that I asked the District Attorney to investigate the leak of the confidential memo to a SoccerCity lobbyist — because I was out to “derail” Cate.

But pay attention to these dates:

  • I asked then District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis to investigate the leak on June 29, 2017
  • Cate did not confess to being the leaker until October 3, 2017 — nearly 100 days later

During those nearly 100 days, the District Attorney’s Office was unable to determine the identity of the leaker. I certainly didn’t know who the leaker was. Only Cate, SoccerCity lobbyist Craig Benedetto, and their confidantes, knew the identity of the leaker.

In fact, at the time I asked the DA to investigate the leak, there were two dozen or so potential culprits — including people on my own staff. That is the opposite of a “witch hunt.”

So here’s what is true about this case and about leaks:

  • I stand by my position that backroom dealings between public officials and lobbyists — especially when confidential city materials are leaked — violate the public trust and harm taxpayers. In this case, the SoccerCity development team was given an upper hand in any future negotiations with the city. That’s bad news for taxpayers.
  • Had anyone on my staff leaked confidential materials, that individual would have been fired. Mayor Kevin Faulconer has said the same thing. I wish every city official took their fiduciary duties to San Diegans seriously. There have been additional leaks from closed session since the SoccerCity leak, and I have asked the District Attorney’s Office to investigate those leaks as well.
  • We continue to defend the city from costly and lengthy litigation resulting from the leak. The plaintiff claims he was harmed because the city denied him a copy of the confidential memo while it was being freely circulated among proponents of the SoccerCity development. If he wins, it could cost taxpayers again.
  • The California Attorney General’s Office (which took over the SoccerCity investigation after new District Attorney Summer Stephan recused herself) did not “disagree” with the San Diego Ethics Commission, which fined Cate $5,000 for his misconduct.
  • Rather, the Attorney General’s Office told me they didn’t prosecute Cate because they couldn’t be sure they’d win. Cate’s defense was that leaking the SoccerCity memo to a lobbyist was “a necessary function” of his “official duties.” I will propose changes to the city’s ethics ordinance to protect San Diegans by closing the loophole in the law that he exploited.

We need to change the culture at City Hall that gives developers and their lobbyists access to inside information.

And we need to change the culture in San Diego, and throughout our nation, that forgives misconduct when it is committed by someone who shares your ideology, and that vilifies anyone willing to stand up for what’s right.

Mara W. Elliott is City Attorney for the City of San Diego.