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District Attorney's Office Investigating Cate's Leak Of Confidential Memo

October 4, 2017 1:20 p.m.

District Attorney's Office Investigating Cate's Leak Of Confidential Memo


Andrew Bowen, metro reporter, KPBS

Related Story: District Attorney's Office Investigating Cate's Leak Of Confidential Memo


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.

Earlier this year with the San Diego city Council was considering the soccer City Stadium proposal a confidential city memo got linked -- leaked to the developers. It contains an assessment of legal and financial issues surrounding the issues. When it wound up on the website of the Tribune, the city attorney warned it leak and -- it weakened the city's position and said the leaker should resign. Four months after it broke, Chris Cate admitted he leaked the memo.

I was not seeking to undermine the city attorney or the city. My goal was to seek from the proponents input and clarification regarding the points that were raised.

Joining me is Andrew Bowen. Welcome.

You are at the press conference of Chris Cate. What else did he have to say about what he leaked the memo?

He said he wanted to get the input of FS investors. The authors of that initiative on some of the points in this confidential memo. He didn't see any substantive difference between this comes -- confidential memo and one already published. That implies he didn't really see much of a point for the confidentiality. But, to be clear, he knew the memo was confidential and still felt it was part of his duty to show it to FS investors and hear their response. And he does not regret it.

Remind us why city attorney Mara Elliott believes giving it to FS investors would undermine the city.

The soccer city proposal authorizes the sale of the property and its redevelopment. It doesn't set a price. As the city would be negotiating that sale if the measure were approved, it's important, not to show your cards to the other side. You want to be in a strong negotiating position. And not have the other side listing in on your confidential correspondence with your client. The city Council was at the time also discussing whether to declare the Stadium surplus lands or suppress -- surplus property which could delay the proposal. If the Council were to do that it could be a lawsuit against it, the memo discusses legal arguments made against the city, when I spoke with Mara Elliott in June here is what she said.

Putting out a 16 page confidential memo flagging potential issues and possible litigation is something that should've been kept within that very closed group of individuals. Who should have the best interest of San Diego at heart. And not the best interest of a proponent of the citizens initiative.

What was the city Council considering voting on before this memo leaked?

The city Council had two options. One was to approve soccer city out right and the other was to put it up for a vote of the people. At that time no one was calling for outright approval from the city Council because it was fairly clear that the opponents of soccer city were going to launch their own counter signature gathering campaign and fortunate -- and force it on the ballot. I asked Councilman Chris Cate this question, were you so torn up about this decision that you need to take the memo to the proponents of soccer city?

He said he still had a decision to make and wanted their feedback.

Part of explanation from Chris Cate is that some of the information was already public. Is that the case?

Yes, much of the memo had some of the same information as the public memo released a few weeks prior. I'm not a lawyer and neither is Chris Cate, so we may not understand the intricacies of the new information that was in a confidential memo and not the public one. Regardless of the content of the memo, there is a process at the city Council by which the confidentiality of these memos could be lifted. That requires a vote, a majority vote of the city Council and that did not happen.

Did Chris Cate explain why he waited until now to disclose that he was the person who gave this memo to FS investors?

Yes. There was a lawsuit filed by Cory Briggs a local attorney who sues the city a lot, he was seeking to lift the confidentiality of the memo. As part of that lawsuit he asked every Council member and the Mayor whether they gave the memo away. And my understanding is that the deadline for that answer was this week. It was probably going to be clear after the answers come back to him who gave the memo away. Councilman Chris Cate got ahead of it by calling the press conference. He says he did not come forward initially because he didn't want to get into a public fight with the city at this with the city attorney Mara Elliott . That is something he has Already done in the past, in February he put out a statement saying she was politicizing her office for things are happening at the city Council. He said also he didn't want to politicize this lawsuit, whatever that means. That's why he came forward.

The city attorney said it would be up to the DAs office to determine whether to prosecute the leaker when he or she was found because it would be a conflict of interest. The city attorney said the DAs public integrity unit is now investigating Chris Cate. What sort of trouble could he be in?

To be clear, the city attorney referred this case to the D -- to the DAs office in June. Whatever investigation has been going on has been happening since June. The San Diego ethics ordinance says it's illegal for a current or former city official to disclose confidential information, except when that exposure is necessary to the function of that person's duty. That except could be the defense that the DAs office would have to overcome if they were to come forward with a prosecution case against Councilman Chris Cate. That legal question is one area. Another question is the political consequences. Chris Cate is up for reelection . This certainly provides an opportunity for an opponent to challenge him and accuse him of violating the public trusts. His seat is not the safest Republican seat in the city. Although he did win by more than a six-point margin two years ago. Three years ago rather. There is also speculation he could run for mayor in 2020, depending on how far this goes there could be political consequences down the line.

After the leak Mayor Faulkner said his staff was's possible for leaking -- if any of his staff was responsible they would be fired. Are their calls for the Councilman to step down?

City attorney Mara Elliott call back in June for whoever leaked this to resign. In statements sin then -- since then, now that she knows it was Chris Cate who did this, she is not cold and out specifically saying he should resign. There have been some voices saying he should resign and some of that may be political opponent capitalizing on the opportunity. But, it does not seem likely this scandal is big enough right now to force the Councilman's resignation.

I've been speaking with Andrew Bowen. Thank you.

My pleasure.