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Beef Week: The Briggs-Goldsmith Feud Proves You Can Fight City Hall

(You just won’t always like the results.)

It’s Beef Week at Voice of San Diego. We’re explaining some of the region’s long-running tensions — and the characters behind them — to help you understand civic affairs in San Diego.

♦♦♦

It is rare in San Diego politics for people in power to call out their opponents by name. Usually, enemies are referred to as “obstructionists,” “salesmen,” “sloganeers” or some other fun turn of phrase.

Not so with City Attorney Jan Goldsmith and his antagonist, local environmental attorney Cory Briggs.

Beef Week-01As Briggs has filed case after case against the city in recent years, Goldsmith has fought an increasing PR war against him, including repeatedly calling him out by name. The headline of a Goldsmith press release from January: “Cory Briggs Loses Again to City of San Diego.”

To some extent, you’d expect bad blood between the city attorney and a lawyer who has filed at least 50 lawsuits against the city. But this feud goes beyond that. Things started to escalate when Briggs sued Goldsmith personally over emails from the city attorney’s private account that were related to public business. The city hired an outside law firm for $150,000 to defend the case. Briggs also hasn’t had kind words about Goldsmith. Here’s an exchange Briggs and I had about Goldsmith during an interview last year:

Dillon: Talk about your relationship with Jan.

Briggs: I don’t have a relationship with Jan.

Dillon: What do you think of Jan?

Briggs: (LONG PAUSE) I don’t have anything to say on the record about Jan.

Coincidentally, Briggs’ biggest legal victory against the city resulted in a brief truce – dare we say a from-beefing-to-bros moment – with Goldsmith. Briggs killed the financing plan for the Convention Center expansion – an issue of long-questionable legality that Goldsmith always tried to distance himself from. They back-patted each other in the comments section in our story about the expansion’s demise.

Recently, though, it’s gotten really beefy again. Goldsmith scored a big win. In February, news site inewsource began publishing stories alleging a conflict of interest involving Briggs’ partner’s work as an environmental consultant for the city. Goldsmith took the unusual step of going to court to try and unseal documents to respond to an inewsource public records request.

Ultimately, the former employer of Briggs’ partner paid the city $143,000 to take care of any conflict of interest concerns about her work.

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