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Roundtable: Manchester And The Port; Dueling Mayoral Endorsements; Judges Ride Free

September 28, 2012 1:14 p.m.

GUESTS

Lorie Hearn, Investigative Newsource

Katie Orr, KPBS News Metro Reporter

Dave Maass, Reporter, San Diego CityBeat

Related Story: Roundtable: Manchester And The Port; Dueling Mayoral Endorsements; Judges Ride Free

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

SAUER: It's Friday, September 28th. I'm Mark Sauer. My guests on the Roundtable today are Lorie Hearn, executive director of Investigative Newsource.

HEARN: Thanks, Mark.

SAUER: Katie Orr, metro reporter for KPBS news.

ORR: Hi, Mark.

SAUER: And Dave Moss of San Diego City beat.

MOSS: Hi.

SAUER: Soon after buying the San Diego Union Tribune, Douglas Manchester and business partner John Lynch set up a pet project on the front page. Readers saw an extraordinary editorial promoting the idea of a massive development about the downtown waterfront.

HEARN: That editorial was endorsing what they called a "bold vision." It ran just about a month after Doug Manchester bought out the UT San Diego.

SAUER: Changed the name.

HEARN: And proposed to put it on the terminal, taking over those 96 acres, and creating a large entertainment complex, with the Chargers stadium, sports arena, public parkway, all kinds of things for the public and for development opportunities.

SAUER: And no more real port there

HEARN: Not in San Diego, no.

SAUER: Okay. So tell us about your investigation this week into this whole project.

HEARN: Well, we did a 2-day investigation. One day was looking at the financial and political connection, the history of financial and political connections between Manchester, Lynch, and various elected officials in San Diego. The second day, how do you put a price tag on a terminal? The UT has suggested that the city could have a lot more money coming into the port if they just built a couple hotels there. And that's probably true. But the second day of our investigation showed that there are many, many factors you need to look at. You can't just look at the square footage, the lease costs. The point of this investigation was to do what we feel is most important, and that is to hold powerful people accountable to tell the voters what the powerful connections are than elected officials, other public officialses, and accident men.

SAUER: They made a point, Doug Manchester, the publisher of the paper, said he has no financial interest in such a development. Was it a sidebar? Was it a step out to emphasis that point in the paper?

HEARN: Well, in the editorial, they had an editor's note at the very end of the editorial, which made a point to say that Doug Manchester had sold the hotels he built in that area and had no financial in the components that he was proposing in this vision. He obviously felt it was important enough to put that disclaimer at the end of the editorial to assure people he had no financial interest. What we found after much investigation is that in fact he does still have a financial interest. When he sold those hotels, he sold them to a hotel conglomerate called host hotels and resorts. And in exchange for the sale, he was given not only cash but quite a bit of -- essentially stock, preferred stock in that company. And we priced it out the day he acquired it, and he had more than $2 million in shares in that hotel. If that hotel company and the hotels down there benefit from any development that could happen at the terminal, the share holders would also benefit.

SAUER: Right. So you're suggesting that there's a little more to it than to simply say, geez, I don't own a hotel there, I have no direct financial interest.

HEARN: Right.

SAUER: What was Mr. Manchester's reaction to this?

HEARN: Well, we attempted to interview him and John Lynch about the 10th Avenue proposal, and they told us they didn't want to talk about it until after the election. In answer to an e-mail asking him if he still had she's shares, he simply sent an e-mail back with a yes with an exclamation point. We asked him for details and he didn't respond.

MOSS: I love this. It's $200 million, right? He bought the North County Times for pennies for what that costs. So maybe he's hoping to get a return on his investment on these papers. But who knows what he's got in the pipeline, what interests he has down the road in this project? I mean, this stock is just the tip of the iceberg, it feels like.

ORR: Well, and it's probably telling that they didn't want to talk to you until after the election.

MOSS: What's that about?

ORR: They have said, of course the paper endorsed Carl DeMaio in the primary. I don't think they've officially endorsed him in the general election.

HEARN: They did endorse him on the front page.

ORR: During the primary. And I should say that Carl DeMaio as you'll probably get into, as denied any kind of connection to the Manchester plan, says he doesn't support it, he likes the port being down there but I just wonder why they wouldn't want it to get out until after the election.

MOSS: It's not on the ballot. The port is not on the ballot.

HEARN: Right, right.

SAUER: Is promoting a sports complex a proper use of the editorial process? What do you think? 1-888-895-5727. You've learned that UT president John Lynch has gone beyond pushing the development plan. He contacted the port commissioner and congressional candidate Scott Peters directly.

HEARN: Our investigation found several connections in this regard. What some people would say as the CEO of UT San Diego exerting pressure or influence on public officials. In one instance, we got an e-mail between John Lynch and Scott Peters, port commissioner, current congressional candidate, asking him how he intended to vote on the extension of the Dole lease, which was up before the extension of the port. The Dole lease would deal a blow to their vision. You give somebody 20 more years on the terminal. However, Peters responded and said they could get out of the lease if they wanted to. There's been a back and forth the past couple days.

SAUER: There sure has! Twitter is ablaze!

[ LAUGHTER ]

HEARN: Right, about an e-mail that may or may not have happened. Clearly it happened, but the originator of the e-mail is in dispute. Scott Peters said John Lynch sent him an e-mail that suggested that if certain provisions in the lease were not met that the UT would have to lead a campaign to disband the port. However, John Lynch has responded that he never said that in the e-mail he sent him. So it's a mystery as to exactly how that line got into the e-mail. Scott Peters has offered to have somebody come down and look at his computer server.

SAUER: An expert, yeah.

HEARN: John Lynch is talking to his lawyers and saying changing e-mails is very serious, and someone could go to jail.

MOSS: What I find fascinating about this is that John Lynch has a history of making these weird threats with the paper. With Kevin Faulconer's office, they were getting fined for having a big sign on their building, and he said, you know, I have half a mind to do a big investigative story about this. But at the same time, there's also a history of people forging e-mails from John Lynch as well. A few months ago, there was an e-mail that went out and it got a lot of play, which kind of lends some credibility to his claim. It's very strange.

SAUER: That's a good point. So just this morning, the editor of the paper, Jeff Light, was at a public forum. And he was talking about what Dave was touching on, which was do the editorials stay on the editorial page or do they bleed over into the news columns? And he was asked about this. And Lori, we have an update on what he said there.

HEARN: Right. He was actually weighing in, I think he was asked about the Peters-lynch e-mail fiasco, and essentially he said that Lynch and Peters have met before to talk about the Dole lease. It wasn't just this e-mail. In fact, he was in meetings with them. He was speaking at the university club. The topic was influencing San Diego, how the media helps to inform and shape our community. And he basically said that he didn't think Scott was very surprised by the e-mail, and he attributes the release of the full e-mail to politics. He said "I think running against the UT, if you're a Democrat, is a favored strategy. And I think that's what you see going on right now." And of course we know that the UT has endorsed Brian Bilbray for that congressional seat.

SAUER: Brenda wants to talk to us about a grand jury report. Go ahead.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi. I found this to be a very interesting conversation because recently I had a Facebook debate with somebody about the idea of what does a stadium do for a city, actually. And the San Diego grand jury recently did their own investigation, and I found it online, and it basically summed up the idea that the city pays a lot more into Qualcomm stadium than it ever gets out of Qualcomm stadium on a yearly basis. $16 million is what they lose every year on the stadium. So I find it interesting that Mr. Manchester has this need to promote a stadium, yet the real news which would be the grand jury investigation never makes it to the headlines.

SAUER: Thanks very much for that. Katie?

ORR: Yeah, Qualcomm is a money-loser for San Diego. That's something that we know. In fact, all the scholarly research out there will tell you that stadiums are hardly ever a good financial deal for cities or municipalities, governments that pay into them. They just don't get the return on the money that they put into putting these stadiums up. And one of the interesting things is that both Carl DeMaio and Bob Filner have said they would support a stadium if there was no public money used. But I don't believe there has been 1 case of a stadium being built that has not used at least some public money.

SAUER: Some public money. And we should distinguish here too, this is a football stadium. Petco Park, the Padres play 81 games there, there are other events. Football stadiums, there may be other games, but you're only looking at a handful of football games, even if the San Diego State team came over there.

ORR: Even Petco, it's in dispute about -- some people say it's been beneficial. Just go to the east village and walk around. But it was in a time of an economic boom when all that stuff was being built anyway. I have read articles too that said if there's one stadium that's a good investment, Petco is the one example in the country of a stadium that might possibly work. For a city however, we can't tell you with any definitive status that is gives the city money. In fact, we're still paying for Petco Park, the city is.

SAUER: And will be for some time. So how has the plan put forth by Doug Manchester and John Lynch been received by city leaders? The plan for the stadium, the football stadium, another sports arena for a team we don't really even have, and other multiuses down there.

HEARN: Well, publicly, they haven't gotten a lot of traction. And the idea of building something down at the 10th avenue terminal is not new. It goes back to the 1990s. There was a proposal to put a deck on top of the port and put a stadium there, and keep the commerce going. Then there was an initiative to change the master plan for the port so that they could develop it, and that was resoundly voted down by the port commissioners. But Manchester and lynch have not presented anything formal in writing to the plans. But the port of its own initiative took it up at its February meeting and reaffirmed its stance that the terminal should remain a maritime piece.

SAUER: They were pretty strident on that.

ORR: Yeah, I was at that meeting, and it was basically the UT is not going to come in here and tell us what to do! It was more like a rally for the port.

MOSS: But they actually didn't show up, right?

ORR: The UT did not. I think they had a reporter to cover it.

MOSS: And this meeting this morning with Jeff Light --

SAUER: The news editor of the UT.

HEARN: Confirming that there is a movement. Because he says that port workers may "feel terribly violated by this idea, that they may have people who disagree with them, and think their entire government setup isn't necessary. But that's not an obnoxious or unpermissible view." So he kind of makes it sound like there's something more going on here.

SAUER: Huh.

ORR: We had Jeff Light on tape, he was explaining to Nathan Fletcher how he put them in such a tough spot, because they wanted to endorse Carl DeMaio but they did not want to see Bob Filner make it through to the general election.

SAUER: Nathan Fletcher was the independent running in the primary and obviously didn't make it through to the general election.

ORR: But that's something that Bob Filner brings up regularly, that the UT does not want to see him in power, and he uses that as kind of a rallying cry, a reason to vote for him.

SAUER: Well, let's talk about Bob Filner, the democratic candidate for mayor. What's the candidates' response to this whole project?

HEARN: Well, a little amusing in our investigation this week that both of the candidates had been recorded in advance on video, and we showed them essentially asking them -- John Lynch sent an e-mail again to Scott Peters, the port commissioner, suggesting that they had made significant progress in their vision with the Navy, the county, city leader, and a mayoral candidate. We asked Carl DeMaio if he was referring to him in this e-mail, he absolutely said no. We asked Bob Filner, and he absolutely said no, said he hadn't even talked to them.

SAUER: Two for two.

MOSS: Maybe it's the mayor of La Mesa.

ORR: That's true, he didn't specify which mayor!

[ LAUGHTER ]

HEARN: So after our story came out, Bob Filner had a news conference, and he was calling for Doug Manchester and John Lynch and Carl DeMaio to release any and all correspondence they may have had regarding the terminal. A little breaking news here. Investigative Newsource had a public records request into Carl DeMaio's office 18 days ago asking for just that information, before Filner knew about this, and today we pressed them for an answer. They're supposed to answer public records requests in 10 days. Of it's been 18. Today, they told us there is not one single piece of correspondence. And our request included e-mail, phone, written communication, anything that might indicate any meetings or correspondence between them. They said there was nothing.

SAUER: I guess you take that at face value.

HEARN: We have to hope that they're complying with the law.

SAUER: You do. They being the UT San Diego, endorsed DeMaio twice in very unusual front page editorials. You think there would be at least some e-mail or something routine. It's odd because that was a pretty overall request, you were pretty broad with that request. What chance is there, and I'll ask you all to speculate a little bit, what chance is there that this dramatic plan for the waterfront will ever come to fruition?

ORR: I think it's a huge -- there would be a ton of hurdles. I saw the -- Michelle Gannon from the head of the port public relations department said there are something like 22 public agencies that would need to approve this. They're going through it right now with the Convention Center, you have to have the coastal commission, the city, the port. So it's -- I think to build something like a stadium would be a huge deal. You need the buy-in from the team also.

HEARN: It's difficult to understand what this vision is, or if it's being modified as we speak. Because we interviewed John Lynch yesterday, and that video is available on KPBS.org, and he would talk about how this is a vision, a call to action, people need to step up and show leadership and getting these things accomplished. And later on, he thought there could be a stadium, and they could continue to have the terminal, and it would also be uninterrupted commerce. So I'm not sure where that fits in.

ORR: You could ride a Chiquita boat to the game.

[ LAUGHTER ]

[[[NEW SEGMENT]]].

SAUER: I'm Mark Sauer with the Roundtable on KPBS. My guests are Lorie Hearn of Investigative Newsource, Katie Orr of KPBS, and Dave Moss of San Diego City beat. We recently had to bleep a Sanders sound bite as he characterized councilman DeMaio as being less than truthful.

NEW SPEAKER: Pro probably takes credit for the weeds I pulled in the backyard last month. It's all bull --

SAUER: So why is he backing the councilman now?

ORR: That was from a news conference back in May, when the mayor was promoting his budget. And at that conference, he pointed out -- was pointing out that Carl DeMaio has never supported one of his budgets, and that Jerry Sanders said Carl DeMaio relies on financial doom and gloom, perpetuating that idea at the city to benefit his campaign because he's running on a platform of fiscal reform at the city.

SAUER: Austerity.

ORR: So we can't be doing better or else we don't need reform.

SAUER: And Carl really did rain on his parade. He came out and said after all these years, we're back in the black a little bit! And Carl said not so fast.

ORR: DeMaio says the mayor is not taking into account all the deferred maintenance the city has to do, and they don't take into account the pension deficit that the city has as well. So with this endorsement earlier this week, it was pretty surprising. I had been talking to people wondering if he was going to endorse him. And the thinking was we don't know. It's a hard call for the mayor because of the acrimonious relationship that they have had. The mayor said, listen, I thought about it, it would be easy for me to sit out. The bottom line, I love this city too much to not weigh in on this race, and after considering both candidates, I feel like Carl DeMaio is the one who most closely represents my vision for San Diego and will help the city on its path toward fiscal stability in the next eight years.

SAUER: Was it kind of hold your nose and endorse?

ORR: Well, I wouldn't go that far. Do they hang out? Are they best friends? No. The mayor even said, do we have lunch together? No we do not. He made a funny comment about how he doesn't have lunch with Carl DeMaio because he likes beer. Everyone, was, like, what? Basically he said it's a political decision. He thinks Carl DeMaio will best represent the ideas that he has tried to accomplish during his time in office.

SAUER: So does this endorsement surprise you?

MOSS: It surprised me. Is surprised me less when I saw that Irwin Jacobs endorsed the next day.

ORR: That's true.

HEARN: Ditto. I agree with that.

SAUER: Let's come around to that. Irwin Jacobs, we should note, is a key supporter of KPBS. And he is a Democrat and well known as a Democrat.

ORR: Just a couple days ago on the Daly Show, Bill Clinton was on there and talked about how he and Irwin Jacobs are really good friends. I asked to Jacobs on the phone. He was not at the news conference that Carl DeMaio held announcing this endorsement. And at that conference, some people were, like, where is he? But Jacobs assured me on the phone that he just doesn't have a lot of time to make it down there. He said that he looked at both the candidates, and he felt in the end that Carl DeMaio has a better understanding of the city and a better approach to fixing the city's problems. I asked him because famously or maybe infamously a couple months ago at the City Council meeting to decide whether or not to go forward with the plaza de Panama project, Filner was there. And he said we're depending so much on Jacobs so much, what happens when he dies? And that did not go over well. So I asked Mr. Jacobs, did he make this endorsement because of his negative relationship with Bob Filner? And he said no, no. We had a disagreement. But Filner now supports the plan. This is truly because I think Carl DeMaio is the best guy for the job.

SAUER: So what has Filner said about Sanders' initiatives?

ORR: He was initially against the plaza de Panama initiative, and Proposition B the, the pension initiative. He has now said that on both of those, he will implement them. Sanders is a really well liked guy across party lines in San Diego. So certainly his endorsement is something that would have been beneficial for Bob Filner as well. And it sounds like he did make an attempt to get that endorsement. But you also have to ask too, the legacy thing for Jerry Sanders, he told me he doesn't have legacy projects. That's up for others to decide.

MOSS: Sure he doesn't!

[ LAUGHTER ]

ORR: But I'm sure he wouldn't like the possibility of seeing someone elected who could undo those projects. But when Sanders made the endorsement of Carl DeMaio, Filner came out with a news release saying that he feels Sanders was pressured into that. And the same day, a poll came out that was very favorable to Bob Filner.

SAUER: Talk about that. This is the USA survey. We don't have a ton of polling here as we had in years past. But finances being what they are in news organizations!

ORR: Right. This is the poll that 10 News gets from survey U.S.A. the latest one had Filner was 50-38% over Carl DeMaio. And they break it down, age, race, education level. Filner won the vast majority of the candidates. DeMaio had more supporters among Republicans, conservatives, tea partiers. People who voted for either Fletcher or Dumanis are now supporting Bob Filner.

SAUER: Speaking of Fletcher, that's the other big shoe to fall. He hasn't endorsed anyone.

ORR: That's interesting. And I think the question it brings up for Bob Filner, Carl DeMaio while he may be trailing in this poll has end landed some pretty lig endorsements. To be fair, yesterday Bob Filner announced the endorsement of state Senator Christine Kehoe, Marti Emerald, Tony Atkins. But Nathan Fletcher --

SAUER: And he --

ORR: Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher was a Republican, he dropped the party, went onto be an independent in the primary. Finished third. So didn't make it through to the general. But still a very well liked guy. And Filner has said if he win, he'll offer Fletcher a job. Filner told me that the Fletcher endorsement is just a matter of timing. Fletcher's office said no, no, that is not true. We video not committed to any kind of endorsement.

SAUER: We've got a caller. Dave from Northpark. Go ahead.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi, thanks. I was wondering if either of you are aware of how the two size up when it comes to bicycle advocacy. I would love to see a bicycle advocate involved in that to make all of the changes much more friendly to bicycles. And also in the downtown and Northpark area, bicycle advocacy being more of a paramount issue. I wonder if you know if either candidate has spoken out.

SAUER: Okay. Thanks very much.

ORR: Filner actually said forget voting, he challenged DeMaio to a bike race. And he said the winner can be mayor of San Diego.

[ LAUGHTER ]

MOSS: I think bob did do a campaign event where he rode bikes around town. And I think I saw some pictures that the Republicans were tweeting comparing it to the Michael Dukakis tank video. Because Filner had this fantastic helmet on.

SAUER: Well, we have had some bicycle initiatives. And we are getting far afield on the endorsements.

MOSS: They had a debate focused on transportation last week, and they both did talk about the need to make San Diego a more bike-friendly town. Obviously our weather lends itself to it, but our roads really do not. It's definitely a city designed for cars. And both of them have said that they will commit to making it a more bike-friendly town. Whether that takes priority or not when they're elected, I don't know. But publicly, they've said it's something they support.

SAUER: Maybe the land Armstrong endorsement is what we're waiting for.

[ LAUGHTER ]

SAUER: Do the endorsements mean much? If Sanders have stayed on the fence --

ORR: I think it would have said something for DeMaio. It means a lot that he's got Sanders' support. He is very well liked across party line, across different communities in San Diego. And the fact that he chose to come out and give him this endorsement is really powerful. DeMaio's campaign was telling me they really feel like they have some momentum. They're going to announce more endorsements coming up in the next week. It'll be interesting to see if it moves the polls at all.

SAUER: Do endorsements mean anything to you? Give us a call. 1-888-895-5727. Dave?

MOSS: These endorsements, the value of endorsements aren't necessarily convincing people that oh, I like mayor Sanders, I'm going to vote for Carl DeMaio. Each one of the endorsements is a little token that buys you media time. Rolling out Irwin Jacobs and mayor Sanders bought him time for us to discuss it right now.

SAUER: Good point.

MOSS: And that's the value.

SAUER: You get a nice image on TV, everybody is smiling, it's not backbiting, the grind of the campaign, it's a happy day.

HEARN: It's a free ad.

SAUER: That's true! In the course of a long campaign, you're going to report these things. Dumanis, she's still on the fence also.

ORR: Yeah, as far as I know, she has not made an endorsement in this race. Some people were bringing up the fact that she was Sanders' choice in the primary, and she finished fourth. And I believe they say Fletcher was his second choice, and he finished third. So now he's backing DeMaio --

SAUER: The kiss of death.

[ LAUGHTER ]

ORR: I did not say that.

MOSS: We know what happens if there's rank choice voting in San Diego, as far as Sanders is concerned.

[ LAUGHTER ]

ORR: But I haven't seen Dumanis come out with anything yet. But both campaigns promise more endorsements in the coming days. Along with the more 20 debates they have.

SAUER: We're still in the midst of those. I was wondering if we're seeing a jelling of the establishment then behind DeMaio.

MOSS: I think that's fair. The movement to the middle, that really --

ORR: The movement to the middle was a group that formed when Nathan Fletcher was in the middle of his primary. It was business leaders who said we are sick of the bickering and the Atrimoany in politics, we like Nathan Fletcher who definitely pushed a moderate, calm -- he always used to say, because he was a marine, if someone said this is a crisis, he would be, like, how many people are dead? How is bleeding out of their ears? Nobody? Then it's not a crisis.

[ LAUGHTER ]

ORR: That was definitely his line. So anyway, these people had supported Nathan Fletcher, and the majority of them have gone now to back DeMaio. Filner is saying that movement to the middle took a sharp town to the right. But bottom line, they're businessmen. And they think that DeMaio's business experience would be beneficial to them.

SAUER: Lori, you've been watching campaigns here a long time. What do you think about the campaign that Filner is running here?

HEARN: Didn't spend much money at all.

SAUER: How has it changed now that we're in the general election campaign?

HEARN: I don't know. I think Katie has been probably keeping track of his movements much more than I. I'm curious about whether he's on the defensive more or what he's actually been doing to be more on the offensive. It seems like with these endorsements for Carl and other things that have come out like we said, they amount to free ads for those candidates. How is he getting his message across?

ORR: You know, Bob Filner is -- it seems like he's kind of unflappable in these campaigns. In the primary, he was getting a lot of flack for running these low-key campaign. Everyone said you're not going to make it through. And he said, listen, I've been winning elections for years, I know what I'm doing!

SAUER: And he proved out! We've got a caller, Greg. Go ahead.

NEW SPEAKER: Thanks for taking my call. I just wanted to briefly comment that the announcement of Irwin Jacobs backing DeMaio was kind of a shock to me. I was reconsidering now by taking a harder look at the mayoral race as a result of that endorsement. That was a big shock.

SAUER: Thanks very much.

ORR: That's the reaction of a lot of people. I know I certainly -- when I woke up in the morning and heard that, I was, like, whoa! That's a big deal. Irwin Jacobs is a respected guy in this community, he stirred up a little -- people were a little upset over the plaza de Panama thing. I shouldn't say a little. Very upset. But he's a respected man in the political world, and I think it means a lot that -- and he's seen as pretty measured. I don't think anyone would accuse him of being -- overreacting to things. So for him to sit down and look at them and decide to go with Carl DeMaio, I think that will have a big impact for a lot of people.

SAUER: We go back to our previous segment on the 10th avenue marine terminal, and the UT San Diego, and Doug Manchester's project to turn that into a major sports complex development. Do you think the mayor's race is going to play into that? Do we suddenly see a project like that catching fire if Carl DeMaio is the next mayor of San Diego?

HEARN: I think it's tough to say.

ORR: Officially, their line is that he does not support that project.

HEARN: Right, right

SAUER: He being DeMaio.

ORR: Right. It's a deep-water port, San Diego.

SAUER: We only have one place to put it.

ORR: He says it's very valuable, here does not support that, officially, on the record, that's what they say.

HEARN: And the whole idea is a deepwater port only exists in one place. And once you close the port, you close the port. It'll never come back again. Of

ORR: Right.

HEARN: And ports traditional leer don't pencil out as much as other developments would. That's what our investigation showed, regardless of how many different kinds of backers you look at. So that's, I think, one of the big driving forces here. You close down that area and put something else on it, the port is closed for good.

[[[NEW SEGMENT]]].

SAUER: Welcome back to the Roundtable on KPBS. My guests are Lorie Hearn of Investigative Newsource, Katie Orr of KPBS news, and Dave can have moss of San Diego City beat. There have been stories in recent months of the state's financial troubles having a big impact on the Court's operations. Apparently the cutback don't apply to judges. Tell us about the story you broke this week in CityBeat, Dave, regarding a protected perk for judges.

MOSS: There have been some enormous cuts planned, $33 million in cuts as we go forward. They've talked about the judges have come on KPBS, talked to all the other media outlets about how the cuts are just going to devastate our justice system. Lo and behold, you look at their finances, it turns out the judges are getting between $575 and $675 a month for "transportation allowances. " Judges don't have to drive a whole lot. You ask about it, you dent get answers. And you start comparing it to other counties, and only two other counties offered these sort of perks to judges.

SAUER: What does that amount to per year?

MOSS: $930,000 dollars per year for judge, $60,000 for executive administrators, so close to $1 million.

SAUER: If you've got an opinion on the judges and their car allowance, give us a call. 1-888-895-5727. We touched on the cutbacks. Give us some details. What are we talking about in the Courts, and what's the impact specifically on the folks who use the Courts, which is all of us?

MOSS: They're shutting down courts in North County, Ramona, east county and south county. They've shut down courtrooms in downtown. They're laying off employees, forcing them to take furloughs. Ending the process of having court-provided stenographers in civil cases. So just a whole range of reduction.

SAUER: And this goes back to the State of California's financial woes.

MOSS: Exactly.

SAUER: What about the juvenile courts?

MOSS: I think there's a courtroom in North County that's been affected. Mostly we're looking at family court, probate courts, small claims courts, civil courts. Those are the ones that are going to be hurt at first. Of as people are sitting waiting in line to pay their traffic tickets or having to drive from Oceanside all the way downtown for a court hearing, they might think about this, they're not getting reimbursed for their drive. But the judges are.

SAUER: The irony is, maybe some of the judges have to drive down from Vista now, and that will have some mileage involved. You touched on the transcript. What happens now if you want a transcript? And of course just as reporters, my goodness, we rely on transcripts like crazy. And all appellate cases, all cases going through the criminal and the civil side, they're desperately needed.

MOSS: The concept is that plaintiffs and defense are going to have to order these themselves that. Is going to create a 2-tiered justice system. If you can afford it because you're wealthy, you're going to have better access to justice. If you can't, listen carefully and take notes.

ORR: One of the things that struck me in reading your article was how reluctant attorneys were to talk to you about it. I think that just says something so interesting about our system, that the judges, these guys have a lot of power. So much so that attorneys don't even want to bring up the fact that they might be getting an excessive benefit here.

MOSS: I wish I could go down the list of people that I called trying to get comments from, and I would talk to them for a second, and be, like, listen, I know you're an outspoken attorney. I actually Googled outspoken attorneys in San Diego!

[ LAUGHTER ]

MOSS: And they'd say, shoot. What's your story? And I would get a sentence into it, and they'd say, I'm not going to be able to help you. I'm going to have to go before these judges. So nobody really wanted to say anything. The bar association didn't want to -- they gave this really timid response that barely even addressed the question. Then the North County bar association, which had lambasted the Courts over this, they said we don't talk about this.

SAUER: Are these folks saying here's a pot of money, do will it what you will?

MOSS: How this works is the state allocates its budget to the administrative office of the Courts which passes it down to the conspire court, and a bunch of judges meet in a committee, decide what the budget is going to be, then that goes to the executive committee, also made up of judges who approve it. These aren't open-door MEETINGS.

SAUER: It's not a basketball hearing:

MOSS: They have a few chances to comment, things like that. This is a very closed-door system. Hopefully with something like this, maybe we can find out whether there is a mechanism buried in the statute or something. Maybe in Sacramento there's a subcommittee of a subcommittee of a legislative committee. We'll find out.

HEARN: I think your story noted that it goes back, right? This perk goes back quite a while before the Courts were under the state.

MOSS: Yeah, this is linked to when the county paid for the Court. And executives and judges were tied to county supervisor, and executives' salaries.

SAUER: At that time, you would think that at least maybe the supervisors were overseeing this.

MOSS: Yeah, and this is part of -- funded by the county. Now the state is paying for it, so it really doesn't have the same level of oversight. And the constitution protects judicial salaries. They get $178,000 a year, and you can't change that short of adjusting the constitution. You can't adjust the number of judges short of legislative action. So the judges are protected in this budget process, and then they write the budget.

SAUER: What are they doing in the other counties?

MOSS: Of the top 12 largest, only two others offer this. In Contra Costa county, it is half of what we pay. And two judges actually turned it down of their 38 or so. And then in San Bernardino county, they have -- they're getting rid of it through attrition. Of anybody who was hired or appointed through 2008 gets it every two weeks. But anybody after 2008, they have to fill out the mileage forms and get reimbursed at the IRS rate.

ORR: When judges take cases and think they might have a conflict of interest, they have to recuse themselves. But when it comes to setting their own car allowances, they have free rein.

MOSS: It's set by the constitution, on a rate where it increases over time.

HEARN: Other municipalities, not just about judges, but others have dealt with this car allowance.

MOSS: The San Diego City Council ran into this a new years ago when the UT San Diego had run some reports pointing out that City Council members got pretty cushy car allowances. And now because of the controversy, only one accepts it, Lorie Zapf because she doesn't take a pension.

SAUER: You could certainly argue the judges don't do a lot of driving, and council members are out in the district quite a bit. All sorts of things.

MOSS: And they make about $100,000 less than judges make.

MOSS: County supervisors get about $1,000 a month for car allowances. They have to drive around these enormous tracts of land, but even that's come under controversy.

SAUER: And that's a set allowance. Do all judges get the same rate of this?

MOSS: No. If you are a regular Supreme Court justice, you get $572. If you are a presiding judge, assistant presiding judge, supervising judge, you get $674.

SAUER: Okay. So it's -- seniority has its perks. If you have an opinion on this topic, give us a call. And the legal associations, the bar association is talking about this, nobody in the state is commenting on it.

MOSS: Well, there are plenty of people commenting to me without putting their name on the record. There's plenty of superior court employees who've gotten in touch with me. You hit the taxpayers' association, which is adamantly against public employee unions. Then you have the public employee unions who represent the Court, and they are the same page with it. When times are tough, you got to cut perks like this!

ORR: And it seems particularly egregious when healthcare benefits are being splashed, and these people who probably don't drive that much get so much money to sit in their office.

HEARN: Particularly when so many other municipalities have adjusted this so that it looks like we will compensate you for the miles you actually drive. That's fair. But actual car allowance, blanketet allowances, seem to have gone by the wayside.

MOSS: When judge Danielson came onto KPBS to talk about these cut, he described them as painful. These were just painful. And the presiding judge described them as devastating. But apparently it's not painful enough that they have to start dipping into their transportation budgets.

HEARN: Do we have a sense of what the million dollars a year was restore in a court budget? I'm wondering how much --

ORR: Pay for a court reporter?

HEARN: Right, right.

SAUER: What is the cost of a courtroom per month or year?

MOSS: You've just given me a great idea for a follow-up!

[ LAUGHTER ]

SAUER: Let's talk about the response from readers and all. You read this stuff, and it's one of those, geez, [can you|you can|cu] believe this!

MOSS: People have been talking about how it's outrageous, how they're expecting to go to courts and have to wait a long time, and it's frustrating. It's frustrating when anybody at the top of the food chain who's being paid with public dollars keeps it.

SAUER: Lee, go ahead. You're with the panel.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi, I was just listening to the conversation and thinking that this really is a nonissue. My husband is a lawyer, and he would be interested in being a judge, but it's very limiting. And that salary is so low compared to what they can earn, you know, in their own private firm that just having the car perks makes it a little more accessible, and we want good judges.

SAUER: What kind of law does your husband practice?

NEW SPEAKER: He's a civil litigator. So really, what the judges are being paid is far below what they could earn otherwise. And so every little bit helps them make the decision to walk away from a private firm where they could do a much better job than just some, you know, nonqualified person.

SAUER: All right, well, thanks very much. I appreciate it.

HEARN: Well, having been a legal affairs reporter for a long time at the newspaper, I know one of the big arguments, and this comes up in judicial elections and appointments, why can't you get more civil lawyers on the bench? And a lot of times, even though $178,000 sounds like a lot of money, civil litigators make a lot of money, particularly if they're a partner in a law firm. So the argument always is, the reason you have so many prosecutors on the bench is because the salaries --

SAUER: Can't give up the cash.

HEARN: Within closer striking distance. But for a civil litigator or a corporate lawyer who's making a lot of money, it's really hard to give it up. So that's -- the caller is make a point which is legitimate. Although, I'm not sure that the auto allowance is supposed to be counted as part of the compensation.

SAUER: William on line 1. Go ahead with the pane

NEW SPEAKER: This is Steve.

SAUER: Oh, okay, go ahead.

NEW SPEAKER: We already have a 2-tiered justice system. If you don't have 3-5 thousand dollars for a lawyer, you're guilty.

SAUER: Okay, well, thanks very much. We'll leave the last word there.


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