San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith spoke with inewsource Wednesday.

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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.”

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Brad Racino is the assistant editor and senior investigative reporter at inewsource. He's a big fan of transparency, whistleblowers and government agencies forgetting to redact key information from FOIA requests. Brad received his master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri...

16 replies on “Document links Briggs’ wife to his law business”

  1. This entire article is actually not based upon any demonstrable fact, and simply this quote from Goldsmith: “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.” When did he state this? How did he state this? How did Goldsmith verify it (which inewsource has attempted to do, but the documents do not show such a link)? I still feel like this entire investigate endeavor is a fishing expedition which has yet to actually catch any proof or evidence, and is desperately throwing out lines hoping something with bite.

  2. I’m the VP of my dad’s corporation and I have no economic interest or pay from it. It’s just on paper in case he dies. This is pure evil from the worst rug-wearing POS in this city.

  3. 1) “The news surprised San Diego business and government officials, including Goldsmith.”
    Is that true? Goldsmith was surprised even though he is the only person so far stating that it is a fact that Cacciatore is a VP of Brigs Law Corp, and you tried and failed to independently verify that claim? What other specific “San Diego business and government officials” told iNewsource they were surprised? Is that really plurals of each, or is it just someone like the president of the Chamber of Commerce?

    Again, how did Brad Racino come to focus on Briggs? Did Goldsmith pass along a tip or suggestion? Did some other San Diego business and government official anonymously pass along a tip or suggestion? Did iNewsource trip over this while investigating something different? Somehow I doubt that iNewsource is willing to make that information known. Until they do, the hypothesis that iNewsource and Brad Racino are tools cannot be rejected.

    Would I be surprised if some of Briggs’ actions don’t pass my personal smell test? No, he’s a lawyer, and that’s my (negative) impression of what lawyers do. But, would I be surprised if Goldsmith or other San Diego business and government officials tipped or planted the story so Goldsmith could then reference it? No, that’s what some politicians do, such as the Bush administration planting aluminium tube stories in the NYT and then citing those stories as further evidence supporting the pending invasion. I _would_ be astounded if Cacciatore or Helix Environmental either deliberately left holes in their environmental documents so they would fail in court, or passed inside confidential information on to Briggs to help his suits, which seems to be the implication we are supposed to draw. That’s not how environmental consulting firms work: not the ones I respect, not the ones I disdain (I have no experience with Helix or Cacciatore’s work so I neither respect nor disdain them). Are there difficulties for dual-career spouses avoiding conflicts in San Diego? Yes, just look at the mayor’s wife and her business facilitating events in the Gaslamp that close public streets. I suspect that there are difficulties for Jan & Christine Goldsmith even now that she has retired and works for a dispute resolution service. [In science & academics the bigger problem is getting 2 jobs in the same city.]

    2) I find the lede sentence here as misleading as the “A HOST” lead on Tuesday: “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.” Isn’t the actual information (or “data” as iNewsource claims drives their journalism) that the City Attorney Jan Goldsmith is alleging that Sarichia Cacciatore at some level had a conflict of interest between her job with Helix and an affiliation with Briggs Law corp.? Isn’t it rather crucial that it is Goldsmith making the assertion and doing the providing, rather than documents being provided out of thin air, especially since the only “document” on her being the VP is his memo? [Are there perhaps other run-ins between Briggs & Goldsmith that might be important information for a reader to put this in context?] In my field, if I put such a distorted first sentence in a paper or report, it would never get past peer review. But, perhaps strong implications or shadings in ledes instead of honest summarizations of the body of the article is what they teach at J school.

  4. Why, in this case is the City Attorney of the City of San Diego acting like he’s the lawyer
    for the big hotel owners and the tourist industry mafia who are losing a case against Briggs, instead of representing the city, as he was elected to do? If Goldsmith trying to line up his next job? Wonder if he would honestly say whether or not the information used by INewsSource to do this “expose” came from him and his staff, or his tourism industry buddies? Anyone can feed bogus materials to naïve reporters who like to pose as “investigative journalists”, but who refuse to say where they got the information they’re basing their charges on. Facts, opinion or just destructive speculation? Let the readers decide.

  5. Well Mr. Racino, the story above as well as the segment just concluded on The Roundtable today sure was interesting. I mean that link to Ms. Cacciatore on Helix’ invoice – wow – “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.” So, how in your and Ms. Williams’ crack investigation did you somehow overlook the fact that the reason Ms. Cacciatore was not listed on the report was the fact that she only participated in the First-Year Biological Mitigation Program (look on page 4 of the invoice about half-way down under the dotted line, its says Task 13 First-Year Biological Mitigation Program). What that means is that she was involved in the in-field monitoring (or probably the report preparation) of the storm water maintenance program. BRIGGS SUED OVER THE EIR. But the way the story has been crafted by you in print and told on radio, this issue is the smoking gun that raises huge concerns and implies that something illegal was done. Really? What concerns me is the fact that you and Ms. Williams have continually done a rather poor job of investigative journalism regarding Mr. Briggs. If you are going to go after someone like him who has obviously riled up a hell of a lot of people (obviously including Mr. Goldsmith), you need to have your ducks all in a row. From what’s been reported so far, you have been blowing smoke.

  6. So the City Attorney got secret info from the attorneys that were in a deposition that was under a gag order? And then the city attorney told his hotel buddies who the mystery person is and what she said in a depo? And they proceeded to “donate” extra money to KPBS and inewsource to be their personal private (defective) detectives? How else would these soon-to -be-employed-in-hotels-journalists know such matters? Ok, I get it. I think we all get it now. Kick ass Briggs, we already have their names.

  7. “In one invoice, Briggs’ wife is listed as project manager for the city’s storm water maintenance program report”

    I finally looked at the document Racino posted: the Helix invoice billing for (part of) the work on the stormwater report. Yep, she’s there, billing 0.25 hours, yes 15 minutes (and possibly the smallest unit of time for billing), and at a rate lower than all but one of the “Sr. Scientists” on the project. So Racino’s documents don’t contradict Hargrove’s documents, the difference is that Hargrove added up the billed hours (13 total on that project, supposedly most as GIS specialist), while Racino took the (inflated) job or billing title and called her “project manager” for the project, which implies leadership and responsibility, as opposed to _a_ project manager (e.g., coordinator or administrator, not scientist or principal lead), billed at a rate lower than more than half of the other listed personnel.

    [$25 reimbursable for GPS? Seriously???]

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