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and Brooke Williams, inewsource
New documents provided Wednesday to inewsource say the wife of a well-known environmental lawyer was vice president of his law firm at the same time she worked on projects for government agencies he was suing.
A memo, received in response to a public records request made last week, was sent by San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith to Helix Environmental Planning, where Cory Briggs’ wife worked as an environmental specialist.
The letter said Sarichia “Seekey” Cacciatore was “a long-time Vice President of Briggs Law Corporation” while doing environmental reviews for the city of San Diego.
When asked how he knows Cacciatore held that position at the firm, Goldsmith would only say, “It was stated by Cory Briggs as a fact… and we have verified that.”
The Secretary of State sent Briggs Law Corp. filings to inewsource late Wednesday. They do not list anyone besides Briggs. According to a spokeswoman for the agency, the filings do not require disclosure of certain positions, such as vice president.
inewsource received the memo shortly after Briggs, a high-profile attorney who has sued governments scores of times over environmental violations,’ published an online response to this week’s investigation into his potential conflicts of interest and questionable land deals.
In the open letter, Briggs said, in part:
“My wife has a job, and I have a job. We don’t talk about or share client confidences, and we take measures to avoid creating any conflicts. There isn’t anything illegal, unethical, or even unusual about this either.”
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In addition to the memo to Helix, Goldsmith provided inewsource invoices detailing Helix’s work for the city, in response to the request for public records.
In one invoice, Briggs’ wife is listed as project manager for the city’s storm water maintenance program report, which is meant to identify flood control channels in need of repair, among other things. Briggs sued the city over that report. Cacciatore’s name was not on the report itself.
inewsource could not reach Briggs, Cacciatore or Michael Schwerin, CEO of Helix, Wednesday evening for comment.
“So what we have is an environmental planner working for a company that has been under contract with the city for ten years to do a lot of environmental work, and that environmental planner happened to be vice president of the law firm that has sued us over 50 times,” Goldsmith said Wednesday afternoon.
“So there’s something about that, as a lawyer, that raises some red flags,” he said.
Goldsmith said as much as a conflict of interest, he is concerned about the “economic interest” Briggs’ wife would have in his law firm as vice president.
The city of San Diego hired Helix to do the report under a $1.4 million contract. Briggs sued the city in 2011 challenging the report and citing deficiencies in Helix’s work. The case was eventually settled, requiring modifications to the project and payment of attorney’s fees.
Helix has contracts with the state, county and federal agencies, and has completed environmental impact reports for agencies and developers throughout Southern California and the western United States. The company is currently operating under a $7.5 million contract with the city.
Over the years, Briggs’ has made a reputation suing over environmental concerns. His profile was magnified in 2013 after publicly calling for former Mayor Bob Filner’s resignation. His initial criticism concerned Filner’s relationship with a developer Briggs was about to sue, not allegations of sexual harassment — ultimately the reason Filner resigned.
inewsource published an investigation Tuesday revealing Briggs’ wife held a key position at Helix, a La Mesa company, on the other side of his litigation. The potential conflict of interest and its effect on the taxpayers had not been publicly known.
The news surprised San Diego business and government officials, including Goldsmith.
He said his office’s lawyers have reviewed a number of depositions and documents in connection to Briggs’ cases against the city since inewsource contacted his office for comment on its findings.
“What inewsource did was, they connected the dots and raised a concern. So what we’re doing is we’re following up on that,” Goldsmith said.
The City Attorney’s office is going to court Thursday morning to ask a judge to release documents relating to a Briggs lawsuit.
Goldsmith’s office also has enlisted the San Diego City Auditor to review all of the city’s invoices and documents related to work with Helix.
inewsource received Goldsmith’s letter to Helix in response to a request submitted Feb. 20 by phone for any public records within the City Attorney’s office mentioning Briggs, Cacciatore or Helix. In the letter, Goldsmith asked Helix to provide any emails or other communication mentioning Briggs or his law firm, as well as the dates of Cacciatore’s employment with Helix and a list of projects she worked on for the city, among other things.
“Please preserve all records involving Ms. Cacciatore or the City as they will constitute evidence,” he stated. The letter requested Helix respond by March 4.
When asked what would happen if Helix did not comply with the request, Goldsmith said, “We will get the answers one way or the other. I guarantee it.”