and Brooke Williams, inewsource
Records released Monday confirm Cory Briggs’ wife was vice president of the Briggs Law Corp. for the past “twenty years,” which means she was an officer of the law firm he used to sue the city of San Diego at the same time she worked for a company on contract with the city.
[one_half][box type=”shadow this-matters”]A sealed transcript is released, illuminating a potential conflict of interest in the professional relationship of Cory Briggs and his wife.[/box][/one_half]
This information is contained in a deposition of Briggs’ wife, Sarichia Cacciatore, taken under oath on Dec. 1, 2014, in San Diego Superior Court. Cacciatore’s lawyer, Marco Gonzalez, emailed the deposition to inewsource and San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith at 4:25 p.m. on Monday.
Briggs, a high-profile environmental lawyer who was one of the first to publicly call for former Mayor Bob Filner’s resignation in 2013, fought release of the deposition last week in court. He called the motion to lift the protective order “a contrivance.”
Gonzalez did not say in his email why he was releasing the transcript, other than that it was in response to an inewsource public records act request and that his client, Cacciatore, “has no objection” to its release.
An inewsource investigation published last week raised conflict-of-interest questions about Briggs’ and Cacciatore’s professional relationship. inewsource found Cacciatore worked for Helix Environmental Planning, a consulting company under contract with a number of San Diego government agencies, including the city and county, to help them comply with environmental laws. Briggs has made a name for himself suing government agencies for alleged environmental violations.
inewsource found at least one case in which Cacciatore worked directly on a project her husband sued over. The City Attorney’s Office, city auditor and county are now reviewing Helix’s contracts.
In the 137-page deposition, Briggs and Cacciatore confirm her role as vice president of the Briggs Law Corp. for the past “twenty years.” She said she had no duties as vice president of the firm.
The deposition shows she was listed as a member of San Diegans for Open Government, referred to as SDOG, a group Briggs represents that is suing the city and the San Diego Tourism Marketing District over a hotel room tax. Her statements were made as part of that pending lawsuit.
In the transcript, Cacciatore also stated she had not “done any work as an environmental planner in connection with other cases that San Diegans for Open Government may be involved in.”
Cacciatore was listed as “project manager” on an invoice for Helix’s work with the city on the stormwater maintenance program report — a report San Diegans for Open Government sued over in 2011.
When asked if she is or ever was married to Briggs, Cacciatore said, “no,” then after referring to Briggs as her husband eight minutes later, clarified that the two aren’t married but “are together religiously.” Multiple documents filed with the San Diego County recorder are signed by Briggs and Cacciatore as husband and wife.
Objections during deposition
Cacciatore was deposed by lawyers for the San Diego Tourism Marketing District Corp., a nonprofit group of hoteliers dedicated to increasing tourism and hotel room stays in San Diego. Cacciatore’s deposition was in relation to a lawsuit Briggs filed against the city and marketing district over the hotel tax.
According to the deposition, Cacciatore was named as one of nine SDOG members Briggs included in his lawsuit. Her identity was under seal.
During the deposition, Briggs stated multiple times that Cacciatore was included “by mistake.”
Jennifer Pancake, a lawyer for the marketing district, said during the deposition that the purpose of the questioning was to ensure at least one member of SDOG had paid the hotel tax the group was contesting. Cacciatore said she was not a member of the organization, didn’t know she was listed as a member and wasn’t aware of the organization’s mission. She said she only knew of SDOG’s lawsuits from “the newspaper.”
Briggs objected to Pancake’s questions on more than 20 occasions over three hours:
PANCAKE (to Cacciatore): Why did you sign a document that’s recorded in the County records stating that you’re husband and wife if, in fact, you’re not?
BRIGGS: I’m going to object on privacy grounds, attorney-client communication grounds, Fifth Amendment grounds, and I’m going to instruct the witness not to answer.
PANCAKE (to Cacciatore): Have you ever incurred any expenses on behalf of the Briggs Law Corporation?
BRIGGS: I’m just going to object here. Given that she is also an officer of Briggs Law Corporation, she is a vice president, for reasons having nothing to do with running the law firm and everything to do with things like estate planning, your questions are going to intrude into areas that not only are outside the scope of permissible discovery but violate person’s right of privacy.
In response to Briggs’ assertion during last week’s hearing that confidential information had been leaked, Goldsmith filed a declaration with the court Monday saying that Feb. 20 was the first he had heard of Cacciatore or her relationship with Helix. Goldsmith stated that a leak “would have been impossible,” since the deposition took place in December 2014 and inewsource began working on its investigation months earlier.