Briggs withdraws subpoena against inewsource
Attorney Cory Briggs argues a case against the city of San Diego in Superior Court. Photo by Sam Hodgson

Briggs withdraws subpoena against inewsource

Cory Briggs, an attorney at the center of an inewsource investigation, has withdrawn a subpoena he served on inewsource’s executive director in April.

The subpoena sought information about a statement San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith made to inewsource reporters in February concerning Briggs’ personal and professional partner, Sarichia Cacciatore, and her role as vice president of the Briggs Law Corp. The statement was,

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

Earlier that week, inewsource published a story examining Briggs’ relationship with Cacciatore, a former environmental biologist for Helix Environmental Planning, a city-contracted company whose work Briggs had sued over. After inewsource uncovered the potential conflict, the City Attorney’s Office found evidence that Cacciatore was also vice president of her husband’s law firm. Helix agreed to pay the city $143,000 to settle all claims related to the conflict in April while Briggs has fought since February to prove that Goldsmith’s office leaked confidential information to the reporters.

On April 20, inewsource’s legal counsel, Guylyn Cummins, served Briggs with a letter explaining state and federal laws protect journalists against compelled testimony. Briggs did not respond until May 5 after a trip out of the country.

He offered to withdraw the subpoena in exchange for “a simple declaration from the reporter to whom Mr. Goldsmith made the attributed statement confirming that the statement as reported is in fact what Mr. Goldsmith said.”

inewsource agreed, but when Briggs began to demand additional facts about the interview, Cummins, under a deadline to respond, filed a full motion to quash the subpoena with the court.

At 7:29 p.m., Briggs sent an email to Cummins saying he took the deposition off calendar and withdrew the subpoena because, “Mr. Goldsmith himself sent me a letter that essentially confirms what I hoped to confirm with your organization’s dec or depo.”

inewsource obtained that letter, which can be read in full here. In it, Goldsmith addressed Briggs’ concerns about disseminating confidential material by pointing out that the deposition of Cacciatore — the heart of the matter in all of this — was not confidential under a court order:

“The court’s order protects the identities of SDOG (San Diegans for Open Government) members,” Goldsmith wrote. “As Sarichia Cacciatore is not and has never been a member of SDOG, she is not protected by the order. Nor, is her status as Vice President of your law firm protected by the order.

“Even though the testimony of Ms. Cacciatore was not confidential under the order, our office did not discuss her testimony until after the transcript was made public.”

Briggs did not respond to an inewsource request for comment on Thursday.

Lorie Hearn, executive director of inewsource, said she was happy Briggs withdrew the subpoena but was concerned it took a major legal effort by inewsource attorneys to achieve the result.

“I believe the subpoena was a ruse to distract us from our reporting and to force us to spend money on legal costs,” she said. “inewsource contends the subpoena was in retaliation for the stories we have published over the past two months about Mr. Briggs’ business practices and conflicts of interest.”

Briggs’ subpoena was part of his ongoing case against the city in a San Diegans for Open Government lawsuit filed in 2012 challenging a hotel room surcharge used to fund collective marketing for hoteliers.

San Diegans for Open Government, a nonprofit, is also suing inewsource over alleged issues with its lease at San Diego State University, although for the first time in the organization’s history, Briggs is not representing the group.

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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.