January 9, 2004

Three Running for the City Attorney’s Seat

By Raymond R. Beltrán

California Primary Elections had historically been held the first week of June, which made it an afterthought when it came to playing any sort of role in the race for president … that was until the year 2000. With an eye on his own aspirations to become president, former California Governor Pete Wilson decided that California needed a greater voice in the presidential elections and moved the Primary Elections to March. For better or worse, this makes local political campaigns a year long, and in some cases longer.

The Primary Election is March 2, and several campaigns have been in full effect since October when candidates could officially file their intent to run. Peter Q. Davis has been running to become mayor of San Diego since the summer of 2003. Vince Hall and Lori Saldana have also been campaigning for the 76th Assembly District since the summer, and all three candidates for San Diego City Attorney’s office have been on the campaign trail for several months now. So, if the campaign season seems interminable, that is because it is, and we still have eleven months to go until the General Elections.

It may be due to the long campaign, coupled with the extraordinary amount of money it takes to mount a credible campaign, but an inordinate number of seats are going unchallenged this year. Take for example District 2 and 3 for County of San Diego Board of Supervisors, where the incumbents get an automatic pass to another term. No one stepped up to challenge either one. The same can be said for City of San Diego Council District 5, City of Chula Vista Council 3, and County Board of Education 2nd and 4th District, all of which are running unopposed. This is to only name a few, and many others are facing only token opposition.

One race that is being contested is the race for San Diego City Attorney’s office. As the city looks toward the 2004 primary elections for City Attorney’s office, it is important, for those planning to vote, to consider not only what their options are, but what the job consists of as well.

The San Diego City Attorney’s mission statement states that “the City Attorney serves San Diego as the chief legal advisor and misdemeanor prosecutor.” The position doesn’t only include the criminal justice system, but other areas of San Diego decision making as well. The City Attorney, an office currently held by Casey Gwinn, is to act as a legal advisor to the mayor, city council, city manager, and all city departments. They represent the city before judicial and administrative bodies in civil proceedings as well as prosecuting misdemeanor crimes.

The office is divided into two departments, the Civil Division and the Criminal Division. The Civil Division, headed by Assistant City Attorney Anita Noone, takes into account cases involving condemnation of property, citizens’ constitutional rights, and public property that may pose a threat upon the community, among other cases. In essence, the Civil Division is a development organized to handle issues that affect the life of the community and its’ environment.

In our city’s ambiguous decision to build Petco Park, and a now rumored Chargers stadium, the Civil Division has acted as a liaison and legal advisor to local government officials and their desire to redevelop San Diego, erecting the almost complete baseball stadium. They’ve also created a Mayor’s Citizen’s Task Force on Chargers Issues.

The second department is the Criminal Division, which is headed by Assistant City Attorney Susan Heath. This division works to prosecute violators who break the city and statewide laws within San Diego County. It acts as an umbrella to many projects officials have created in opposition to domestic violence, such as the Domestic Violence Court, the Domestic Violence Council’s Education Committee, the Parenting Project, and the Victim Advocacy Program.

In the primary elections, one candidate favored by fifty percent, plus one, of the voting population will succeed the City Attorney’s office, without general elections. In the event that no candidate wins fifty percent of San Diego votes, the top two candidates will then run for office in the General Elections.

These responsibilities to the community of San Diego are currently being passed on as Casey Gwinn enters into the end of his last year, out of eight, as two-time elected City Attorney. The primary elections will take place on March 2. Currently, the three candidates running for the position are Michael Aguirre, Deborah L. Berger, and Leslie Devaney.

Michael J. Aguirre

With a work ethic founded in his blue collar past, Michael Aguirre says it’s his youthful days spent on pumping gas, picking cantaloupes, and unloading boxcars that he looks to when making decisions for his clients and fulfilling his duties as an attorney.

Although born in San Diego, Aguirre has spent much of his life, since youth, in Arizona. He attended a Jesuit high school before transferring to Arizona State University and earning a Bachelor of Science degree in 1971. Three years after, he earned a law degree from Boalt Hall at University of California, Berkeley. Ultimately, it was Harvard Law School where Aguirre would finish his academic career and earn a Master’s Degree in Public Administration.

He began his professional career soon after earning his B.S. as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in San Diego. In the outcome of a successful pension-racketeering investigation, Aguirre had won benefits for many San Diegans and saved money for worker pension programs. As an Assistant Council to the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, he investigated a national employee benefit fraud. Companies successfully prosecuted by Aguirre are First Pension Corporation, American Principles Holdings, and J. David and Company.

Michael Aguirre has since ventured into private practice and has also lectured as a Professor of History at University of Southern California, specializing in organized crime. He’s been appointed by Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante to prosecute companies manipulating the cost of energy in California and has been elected to Co-Chair the International Energy Litigation Law Seminar.

Currently running for City Attorney’s office, Michael Aguirre, an Independent, says he promotes a more open door policy on decision-making and an end to special interests.

Deborah Lynette Berger

As a former bilingual elementary school teacher in the South Bay, a YWCA board member and San Diego Deputy City Attorney, Deborah Berger is running for the seat of City Attorney.

Berger began her academic career graduating Magnum Cum Laude at University of California, Los Angeles with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. She earned an Elementary School Teaching Credential at Sacramento State University, transferred to San Diego State, where she attained a Bilingual Specialist Credential, and finally graduated from Thomas Jefferson School of Law, earning a Juris Doctorate Degree in 1984.

In her profession, Berger has advised the mayor and city council on issues surrounding the development of Petco Park and the expansion of the Convention Center. She opposed the takeover of SDG&E by the Southern California Edison Company and had worked with the City of San Diego in order to prevent the merger.

Since the early 1970s, Deborah L. Berger has held positions involving supervision with Lindsey and Co. Mortgage Company, bilingualism in the South Bay, and personal injury litigations at Porter and Huffman in San Diego, all of which she feels adds to her broader perspective on issues and acts as an edge of experience on other candidates.

She’s previously never ran for any other office, but has stayed on top of issues through organizations like MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), Women in Business, San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, Lawyer’s Club, and acting as an instructor at Inns of Court.

Leslie Devaney

As the Executive Assistant City Attorney since 1996, Leslie is now a candidate in the March 2 primary elections for San Diego City Attorney.

In 1979, she earned her Bachelors Degree in political science, with a minor in English Literature and Psychology, at University of California, San Diego. She attained her Law Degree in 1983 at University of San Diego, and in 1985, she began her professional career in the City Attorney’s office focusing on criminal cases.

In her nascent experience, she tried approximately 25 jury trials and over 70 non-jury trials. Devaney left the City Attorney’s office to become the Senior Litigator of New York’s American International Group (AIG) in 1992, which was establishing a staff counsel office in San Diego. Casey Gwinn appointed her Executive Assistant City Attorney after she returned to San Diego in 1996. She has been in charge of the City Council Docket, advisor to the mayor, Council and City Manager, supervisor of outside counsel, and managed matters that involve both the Criminal and Civil Divisions of the office, including a variety of special projects.

Devaney spearheaded the Tobacco Settlement, the Adult Bookstore, the Methamphetamine and Graffiti Ordinances. She played significant roles in forming the city’s Homeless Outreach Team, Alcohol Advertising Ordinance, BioTech security and special event plans.

Currently, she lives in Scripps Ranch and is involved in community organizations like the San Diego County Bar Association, the University Club, and the San Diego Republican Businesswomen’s Club.

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