Briggs subpoenas inewsource executive director

On Monday, Cory Briggs’ law firm served inewsource executive director Lorie Hearn with a subpoena seeking information related to a story inewsource published on Feb. 26 about a conflict-of-interest investigation of Briggs.

This legal action follows a lawsuit filed against inewsource and Hearn personally Thursday by a nonprofit affiliated with Briggs. The suit, brought by San Diegans for Open Government, challenges the lease inewsource has with San Diego State University for its office, among other things.

Hearn said she and inewsource intend to fight both actions vigorously. “I believe they both are retaliation for the investigative journalism reports we have published and aired over the past two months,” Hearn said. “I am confident neither have merit.”

The subpoena, delivered Monday, seeks to question Hearn about a statement City Attorney Jan Goldsmith made during an inewsource interview on Feb. 25 with reporters Brad Racino and Brooke Williams.

Briggs’ subpoena asks for all facts, evidence and writing that prove or disprove what Goldsmith said Feb. 25 related to Briggs’ personal and professional partner, Sarichia Cacciatore, and her involvement in the Briggs Law Corp.

He filed the subpoena as part of his ongoing case against the city of San Diego. That suit, filed by San Diegans for Open Government in 2012, challenges a hotel room surcharge used to fund collective marketing for hoteliers.

Goldsmith made the following statement to inewsource about Cacciatore’s role as vice president of Briggs’ law firm:

“It was stated by Cory Briggs as a fact… and we have verified that.”

Earlier that week, inewsource had published two stories  — one detailing Briggs’ land deals and the other examining his relationship with Cacciatore, who was an environmental biologist working for Helix Environmental Planning, a city-contracted company whose work he had sued over.

inewsource called the City Attorney’s Office about its findings on Feb. 20, the last business day before publication.

During that phone interview, inewsource requested City Attorney records mentioning Helix.

On Feb. 23, inewsource amended that request by email to include any City Attorney communication or documents (emails, faxes, papers, memos, etc) mentioning Briggs, Helix or Cacciatore.

Two days later, Goldsmith’s office, which has been embroiled in lawsuits with Briggs, submitted a motion in San Diego Superior Court asking a judge to unseal a deposition, which he said was responsive to the request. A five-day turnaround for a Public Records Act request response is unusual, and a public official going to court to get records unsealed in response to one is practically unheard of.

That same day, on Feb. 25, during a sit-down interview with inewsource as part of its ongoing investigation, Goldsmith shared a letter his office had sent that day to Helix stating, in part, “We have received information to the effect that Sarichia Cacciatore, an employee or former employee of Helix, was a long-time Vice President of Briggs Law Corporation, a law firm that has sued the City over 50 times, and has had a long-standing personal and financial relationship with Cory Briggs, the principal in that law firm.”

On March 2, before the court ruled on Goldsmith’s motion to unseal the deposition, Cacciatore’s personal attorney, Marco Gonzales, emailed a copy of it to inewsource. In it, Cacciatore said she had been vice president of Briggs Law Corporation for about 20 years.  She also also worked for Helix from February 2003 to July 2011. Briggs, who was Cacciatore’s attorney at the deposition, also said during an objection that Cacciatore is an officer and vice president of his law firm.

In its lawsuit filed last Thursday, San Diegans for Open Government has named inewsource, Hearn, San Diego State University, its foundation and the university system. It challenges the parties’ lease arrangement and alleges conflicts of interest. The inewsource office is in the KPBS newsroom on the SDSU campus.

Neither inewsource nor Hearn has been served.

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About Brad Racino:

Brad Racino is a senior reporter and assistant director at inewsource. To contact him with tips, suggestions or corrections, please email bradracino at inewsource dot org.
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