Opinion: If Our City Attorney Can’t Accept The Voters’ Will, Recall Her

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San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott. Photo by Chris Stone

By Raoul Lowery Contreras

First-term City Attorney Mara Elliott has been rejected by both law enforcement and the judicial system in her two most high-profile efforts. Voters should have expected this because she had never prosecuted a criminal violation in court. She was and is a bureaucrat whose background is counseling government agencies how to function under California’s open meetings laws.

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Last year Elliot, a Democrat, openly censured, rebuked and attempted to humiliate City Councilman Chris Cate, a Republican, for forwarding to a lobbyist a memo she sent him regarding the proposed SoccerCity deal. Her claim was that the memo was “confidential” and “privileged” and therefore restricted to council members. By sharing it, she alleged, Cate committed a crime. She referred it to newly appointed San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan for investigation and criminal prosecution.

Stephan, a career prosecutor with two decades of sending people to prison, demurred and passed it on to newly appointed California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. He quietly passed the word through an assistant that there was no crime.

The District Attorney and the Attorney General both know what is criminal and what is not; Elliot doesn’t.

Cate committed no legal or criminal offense. Elliott should never have raised the issue except in private with Cate. Former City Attorney Jan Goldsmith told this writer that had the Cate episode occurred when he held the office, he would have sat down with Cate and explained why he shouldn’t have sent the memo out and that he shouldn’t do it again. He certainly would never have referred it to the District Attorney.

That was Elliot’s first misadventure. Her second was when she petitioned the Superior Court to remove from the November ballot both the SoccerCity and competing SDSU West initiatives.

Raoul Lowery Contreras

Hundreds of thousands of San Diego voters signed petitions to vote on one or the other proposal to buy and develop the abandoned Mission Valley stadium property. But Elliott claimed the city’s formal and legal responsibilities would be abridged by the measures, which would direct the city to negotiate a sale of the property to the winner.

To rub salt in the wound, she hired a private law firm to pursue the extremely costly lawsuits. How much did that cost San Diego taxpayers? Why couldn’t attorneys on her 100-plus legal staff handle the cases?

Perhaps Elliott is unaware of California laws dating from 1911 that created the initiative and referendum processes empowering the people to run state and local affairs directly. Over a quarter million registered voters signed petitions to place the competing stadium proposals on the ballot. Yet Elliott asked the courts to throw the propositions off  because, apparently she believes, only government bureaucrats can run the city properly.

Two separate Superior Court judges ruled against Elliot and allowed the propositions to remain on the ballot.

Then she asked the 4th District Court of Appeal to overturn the individual judges’ rulings and to remove the propositions from the ballot. The Court of Appeal declined to do so. Will she now appeal to the California Supreme Court? If she does, she will lose because the calendar is against her.

The people will vote and one proposition will win. Will Elliott go to court to overthrow the vote of the people? If she does, she should and must be recalled.

Why? As she explained in her own words in an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune: “Once the voters have spoken…that’s the law for me, so I will fight passionately to defend it.”

She should remember that when she is on the ballot again.


Raoul Lowery Contreras is a political consultant and the author of “The Armenian Lobby & American Foreign Policy” and “The Mexican Border: Immigration, War and a Trillion Dollars in Trade.”  His work has appeared in the New American News Service of the New York Times Syndicate.

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