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D.A. Gets Council Secrecy Probe : City Attorney Asks Miller to Handle Private-Meeting Case

Times Staff Writer

San Diego County Dist. Atty. Edwin Miller will take over an investigation into the San Diego City Council’s alleged violation of state secrecy statutes when it held closed sessions to discuss the $644-million 1987 city budget.

Miller’s spokesman, Steve Casey, said Tuesday that City Atty. John Witt had “indicated that he would like the district attorney to do the investigation” into alleged Brown Act violations. The district attorney, in turn, said that he would be willing to “make an assessment of the facts,” Casey said.

However, Miller asked for a formal written request from Witt, which has not been received, Casey said.

The issue came to a head Monday when the San Diego Tribune filed suit against the City Council, claiming that council members violated the Brown Act by making decisions on the multimillion-dollar spending program in private, making the later public hearing on the budget “a sham.”

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Witt was not available for comment late Tuesday.

Assistant City Atty. Curtis Fitzpatrick said there are valid reasons for considering turning the investigation over to the county prosecutor’s staff. Brown Act violations are misdemeanors.

Council members, Fitzpatrick said, are “civil clients” of the city attorney and his staff. Attorneys rarely sue their clients.

The Tribune suit names all council members and charges that they engaged in illegal private meetings in violation of state law. The suit seeks an injunction against the council to prevent members from making any future decisions in private that would violate the Brown Act, which was passed in 1953 and requires that all meetings and decisions by legislative bodies be conducted in public.

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According to the suit, the council “engaged in a willful, intentional and deliberate effort, for two days, to circumvent the Brown Act and its mandates” before passing the budget Thursday.

Witt met with seven of the eight council members Tuesday about the litigation--one of the few topics elected officials may legally discuss in private--but had no comment about the meeting. The eighth council member, Gloria McColl, is on vacation in Germany.


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