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

San Diego City Councilman Chris Cate speaks during a council meeting, Dec. 12, 2016.
Milan Kovacevic
San Diego City Councilman Chris Cate speaks during a council meeting, Dec. 12, 2016.
District Attorney's Office Investigating Cate's Leak Of Confidential Memo
District Attorney's Office Investigating Cate's Leak Of Confidential Memo GUEST: Andrew Bowen, metro reporter, KPBS

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.

UPDATE: 4:36 p.m., Oct. 3, 2017

The San Diego City Attorney's Office said Tuesday that county prosecutors were investigating the leak of a confidential memo by City Councilman Chris Cate.

The office's spokesman, Gerry Braun, said in a statement: "City Attorney Mara Elliott has made it clear that this was an egregious betrayal of the public trust. The matter is being investigated by the Public Integrity Unit of the District Attorney's Office. We have no further comment at this time."

He added that the city is fighting a civil lawsuit filed by activist attorney Cory Briggs, and that the City Attorney's Office did not want to compromise its legal position.

A spokeswoman for the district attorney said she could not comment on any investigations, whether they exist or not.

ORIGINAL STORY:

San Diego City Councilman Chris Cate said Tuesday he was the one who gave a confidential memo on the Soccer City initiative to the measure's proponents, three months after the city attorney said it was investigating the memo's leak.

Cate addressed reporters in a press conference at the City Administration Building, saying he gave the memo prepared by the City Attorney's Office to FS Investors. He said he did so to seek their input in advance of a vote at the City Council to approve the citizens initiative outright or put the measure to city voters.

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

If approved by voters, the Soccer City initiative would authorize the sale of the SDCCU Stadium (formerly Qualcomm Stadium) property, and the construction of a professional soccer stadium, housing, commercial development and a river park on the site in Mission Valley. Council members voted to put the measure up for a public vote.

RELATED: San Diego City Attorney: SoccerCity Memo Leaker Should Resign

Last June, after the memo was published by the San Diego Union-Tribune, San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott said the leak of the memo compromised the city's position in negotiating the sale of the property and undermined the city should a lawsuit be filed over the initiative. She called on the person who released the memo to resign.

Cate said he had no intention of resigning, and that he did not regret releasing the memo. The release of confidential memos typically needs the approval of a majority of City Council members.

Elliott's office had already released a public memo on the Soccer City initiative, but the confidential memo contained some analysis not in the public memo. Cate said he did not believe his turning over the confidential memo undermined the city's negotiating position or its legal position.

"I did not see anything in this memo that was substantially different from the public memo just weeks prior," he said. "At most, this was a misunderstanding between the city attorney and myself."

Cate said he was coming forward now because of a lawsuit filed by activist attorney Cory Briggs seeking the confidential memo's release via the California Public Records Act. Cate said Briggs had asked City Council members "a number of questions" in relation to the lawsuit, and that his goal was "to come forward and be public about this and not politicize the lawsuit."

Briggs declined to comment for this story.

Cate also said he "did not want to get in a public debate with the city attorney" over the memo's release, and that he "greatly respect(s) her and her office." But last February, Cate accused Elliott of "playing politics" when she asked City Council members for direction on whether to support two federal lawsuits.

Elliott said in June that her office could likely not prosecute anyone at the city for ethics violations because doing so would be prosecuting her own client, and that any criminal investigation over the leak would be referred to the County District Attorney's Office.

The San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board reported in June that the mayor said the leaker would likely be fired if the person were one of his staffers.

The mayor's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

District Attorney's Office Investigating Cate's Leak Of Confidential Memo
City Councilman Chris Cate says he gave a confidential memo on the Soccer City initiative to the measure's proponents. The City Attorney's Office says the memo's leak is being investigated by the Public Integrity Unit of the District Attorney's Office.