If elected, city attorney candidate judge Jan Goldsmith said he would depoliticize the office.
“The city attorney’s office is about the law, not politics,” said Goldsmith, who’s been a practicing attorney for 32 years, written both civil and criminal law, created laws as a state assemblyman, is the former mayor of Poway and enforced laws for the past 10 years as a Superior Court judge. “That office is much too political: It needs to be returned to doing what it’s supposed to do, and that is being the law firm for the city.”
Goldsmith is running for city attorney for two reasons. “One is public service,” he said. “The other is the challenge of turning that office around and making it one of the finest public law firms, and helping the city get back on its feet in the process.”
The judge, who is on leave of absence, is not running for office because it’s more power. “I lose my bailiff,” he said.
He’s not running for office out of ego. “I have to call my former colleagues, ‘Your honor,’ ” he added.
It’s not about more pay, which Goldsmith said is about the same as what he’s making. And it’s certainly not about a lighter workload. “It’s going to be a lot more work given what needs to be done in that office,” he pointed out.
So why is Goldsmith running for city attorney? “I’m running for this office because it’s a law job,” he said, “and to help our community and turn that office around.”
The city attorney challenger believes the office he is running for is dysfunctional. “Right now the office is in shambles,” he said, “and the city is never going to get back on its feet unless it can be brought back to professional standards.”
Goldsmith has a game plan for returning the city attorney’s office back to respectability. His 10 commitments are: to focus solely on the law; conduct aggressive, fair, non-partisan investigations to be carried out through the legal process, not press conferences; ensure the city is provided independent legal advice in a timely manner; hold city employees accountable and not look the other way when laws are broken; no longer pursue frivolous lawsuits; treat everyone equally before the law; solve problems and not create obstacles to lawful solutions; balance the office’s budget and make it transparent; require attorneys in the office to conduct their work in a non-partisan manner; and work hard to be an effective city attorney never forgetting that individual is accountable to the people of San Diego.
Incumbent city attorney Michael Aguirre and Goldsmith agree on one thing, the office should remain independent. But that’s as far as their agreement goes. “Mike and I disagree on what an independent city attorney means,” Goldsmith said. “I don’t believe that you get to be the mayor or get to jump into policy and influence votes. I think that’s destructive and impairs the ability of the real policymakers to do their job. The word independent means basing our legal work on the law, and not on politics, personalities or what the press or mayor may want. It’s based only on the law. It’s something I’ve been doing as a judge for the last 10 years.”
Goldsmith concurs there has been too much outsourcing of late in the city attorney’s office. “There are two bases on which to hire outside counsel,” he said, “where you have legitimate conflict of interest, and where the city attorney’s office does not have the expertise.”
He cited a case in point, Aguirre’s being conflicted out in the Sunroad case, as one example of how he has gone too far with litigation which has needlessly added to the city’s legal costs by necessitating the hiring of outside counsel.
Goldsmith said one important change he would make to the city attorney’s office is to resurrect a training program in the office’s civil division, which he said was discontinued by the incumbent. “We need to improve the training and supervision of lawyers,” said Goldsmith, “who need to be hired for the quality of their legal work, and not their political beliefs.”
Regarding what the role of the city attorney should be, Goldsmith said: “Your client is the city. Your client is not the mayor, personally, or the city councilmembers, personally. You need to help them do their job, make sure they stay within the parameters of the law. They need to have confidence that you, as the city attorney, is not going to be there to hurt them, or the city.”
Goldsmith noted the city attorney’s office needs to become more cooperative with other city agencies. “Aguirre is a lone wolf,” he pointed out. “There is a lack of coordination. The criminal justice system is a team effort. You’ve got to work with others.”
Looking ahead, Goldsmith foresees the city Council becoming more proactive with drugs and gangs.
“There has been a lack of coordination between the city attorney and the D.A.'s office,” he said.
“Southern California has an infiltration of (drug) cartels and gangs that we’ve never seen in this county before. Should I be elected, Bonnie Dumanis (district attorney) and I have agreed to do a joint program, an organized crime strike force, in which we work with the city attorney, district attorney, the FBI and all law enforcement in the city and county to coordinate our efforts. We need to have a joint approach.”
Goldsmith believes he’s the best candidate for the city attorney’s position. “I’ve run my own successful law firm, hired and fired lawyers,” he said. “I’ve been told I’m the only person to teach at all three law schools in San Diego. As an adjunct professor, I spend my days in court, and my evenings teaching. We have a lot of young lawyers in the city attorney’s office in desperate need of training. I bring that.”