Councilman Cate Will Not Have To Testify In Leaked Memo Suit
San Diego City Councilman Chris Cate on Friday was cleared from having to give sworn testimony in a lawsuit over a confidential memo he leaked last year.
The ruling from Superior Court Judge John S. Meyer effectively shields Cate from being dragged deeper into a lawsuit that does not target him directly, and spares him from having to explain under oath why he gave the memo to a lobbyist for the Soccer City initiative last June.
The lawsuit was filed last year by attorney Cory Briggs, and technically targets the city of San Diego, not Cate. The memo from the City Attorney's Office analyzes potential legal issues with Soccer City, an initiative to redevelop the former Chargers stadium.
Meyer agreed with Cate's attorney that a sworn deposition by the councilman would have no bearing on the ultimate goal of the lawsuit, which is to lift the attorney-client privilege of the memo Cate leaked.
"I'm sure Mr. Briggs can have a lot of fun, get a lot of press, get a lot of interesting stuff (with a deposition), but it has nothing to do with this particular lawsuit," Meyer said during oral arguments Friday.
The ruling also quashed subpoenas served to FS Investors, the group behind Soccer City; California Strategies, the lobbying firm representing FS Investors that first received the confidential memo from Cate; and Manolatos Nelson Murphy, a communications firm hired by Cate in the wake of the scandal.
Meyer had issued a tentative ruling ordering Briggs' client, San Diegans for Open Government, to pay sanctions of $1,000 to Cate and $1,000 to MNM — but he agreed to waive those sanctions after oral arguments.
Cate admitted in an Oct. 3 press conference that he had given the confidential memo to Soccer City proponents. He said he did so to get feedback from the initiative's backers in advance of a City Council vote to either approve the measure or put it on the ballot. The measure is currently scheduled to be voted on in November.
Cate's admission of the leak came only under pressure from Briggs' lawsuit.
More than three months prior to the October press conference, City Attorney Mara Elliott called the leak of the memo an "egregious breach of public trust" and said the leaker had likely committed a crime and should resign. Her office referred an investigation into the leak to the District Attorney's Office, which in turn passed the case on to the state attorney general.
Cate agreed last month to pay a fine of $5,000 to the city's Ethics Commission rather than dispute the charges in a hearing. The San Diego Union-Tribune quoted him as saying he regretted breaking the city attorney's confidence.
Neither the judge's ruling on Friday nor the fine paid to the Ethics Commission settles the ongoing criminal investigation into the leak by the Attorney General's Office. The city's Ethics Ordinance prohibits public officials from disclosing confidential information unless doing so is a necessary function of their job.