The law firm representing the city of San Diego in a pair of high-profile legal disputes is the subject of a new allegation, that one of its partners threatened a witness in a civil case with personal and professional harm if he did not testify in favor of the city.
The city’s Senior Deputy Attorney General Mark Skeels said in affidavits filed this week that attorney William Price, of the law firm Burke Williams Sorenson, was seeking to influence how Skeels might testify in a trial against his employer, the city of San Diego. The law firm represents the city in the lawsuit.
Skeels said in one of the two statements that Price wanted him to discredit Marlea Dell’Anno, a former assistant city attorney who is suing San Diego for retaliation and unfair dismissal.
Skeels, who unsuccessfully ran for a Superior Court seat last year, said Price emailed him in April requesting a meeting to discuss the Dell’Anno case and that Price had said he had “a lot of friends in the legal community” and “he could have a lot of influence on any future campaign.
Skeels wrote in his statement: “I understood this point to mean that I had to do whatever he wanted… or else face a potential backlash from the legal community that would tarnish any opportunity to seek judicial office. “
The 11-year-old deputy city attorney also admitted to having had a previous personal relationship with Dell’Anno, who had been his boss, and noted that it could create an “uncomfortable situation” for him in his workplace.
Skeels said Price has indicated he may be able to keep the earlier relationship off the public record if he helps the city’s legal defense.
Mr. Price said he would recommend avoiding this topic if I fully co-operated with his instructions and provided a testimonial to portray Ms. Dell’Anno as a woman who made bad decisions both personally and professionally. Skeels wrote.
“Again, I took this as an effort to engender a favorable testimony in order to avoid the potential embarrassment of a testimony related to our relationship,” he wrote.
Skeels’ statements were filed as evidence of a motion by Dell’Anno’s attorneys to disqualify Burke Williams Sorensen from the wrongful termination case due to the alleged misconduct.
Price, who worked as a deputy attorney general for 12 years before joining Burke Williams Sorensen in 2019, did not respond to a request for comment on the affidavits.
Another lawyer for Burke Williams Sorensen, Timothy Davis, also declined to comment on the specific allegations, but said the firm planned to fight the proposed disqualification.
“Burke contends that the pending motion to disqualify Burke from representing the city in the Dell’Anno case lacks legal basis,” Davis said via email. “Burke will set out his position on the issue when he files documents opposing the motion.”
A spokeswoman for City Attorney Mara Elliott issued a brief statement in response to questions about the statement filed by one of her senior deputies.
“Our office has no comment on this ongoing litigation,” spokeswoman Hilary Nemchik said in an email. “For comments on how the outside lawyers handled the case, please contact them.”
Skeels did not answer questions about his sworn testimony.
Dell’Anno was a senior prosecutor under former city attorney Jan Goldsmith before being fired in late 2015, allegedly for mismanaging dozens of domestic violence cases and bringing cases home.
She sued Goldsmith and the city in 2017, accusing her former boss of firing her for refusing to pursue a case she deemed unwarranted. She said Goldsmith’s main concern at work was to promote his “personal and political advancement”.
The petition also claims that Price improperly disclosed confidential information to a third party, a lawyer he wanted to date. After initially denying the disclosure, he admitted to Skeels that he “may” have shared information about the case, according to the motion.
At the end of their meeting, Price advised her not to tell anyone about the discussion, Skeels said.
“This litigation is extremely stressful as I am aware of much of the hardship that has been placed on Marlea Dell’Anno and my testimony is likely to upset the town lawyer and my current supervisor,” Skeels wrote. “I am concerned about the negative impact on employment by bringing William Price’s inappropriate behavior to life.”
Dell’Anno’s petition claims that Price violated several sections of the California State Bar’s Rules of Professional Conduct, a set of practices lawyers statewide are required to adhere to that relate to fairness and the driving.
“Rule 3.4 prohibits a lawyer from” paying directly or indirectly, offering to pay or accepting payment of compensation to a witness depending on the content of his testimony or the outcome of the case. ” , ”Indicates the motion.
Another rule “states that it is” professional misconduct “for any lawyer to” engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deception or reckless or intentional misrepresentation “”, he adds.
The only recourse is to remove the firm from litigation, Dell’Anno lawyers argued.
“There is now uncertainty regarding all other witnesses the cabinet has come in contact with,” the motion reads.
In addition to defending the city in the Dell’Anno case, Burke Williams Sorensen was hired to prepare a report for the city on the failure of his transaction at 101 Ash Street.
In a 2016 deal championed by Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s administration and signed by Elliott, the city paid tens of millions of dollars to rent a building that can now not be occupied due to problems with the building. asbestos and other problems.
Price was not one of the attorneys for Burke Williams Sorensen who worked on the city’s report on the Ash Street project, Davis said.
The report was part of another legal dispute between city officials and members of the media. NBC 7 reported in September that a copy of the law firm’s report included “footnote 15,” a note alleged to suggest that Elliott had improperly interfered with the outside investigation into the leasehold. ‘Ash Street.
The footnote also implied that then assembler Todd Gloria had helped get the lease approved while serving on city council in 2016 because he knew it was not worth what the seller wanted for. the property.
Burke Williams Sorensen, as well as Elliott and Gloria said the footnote was fabricated, likely to make Elliott and Gloria look bad ahead of the November ballot, as Elliott sought re-election and Gloria ran for reelection. At the mayor.
NBC 7 withdrew key portions of its reporting two and a half weeks later and publicly sanctioned the two reporters whose signatures appeared in the article.
Elliott and Gloria both won their campaigns.
Dell’Anno now runs his own private law firm. She represents NBC 7 reporter Dorian Hargrove, one of the two reporters for the article Footnote 15.
Hargrove filed a libel suit against the city of San Diego after being publicly criticized for the August report on Burke Williams Sorensen’s study of the Ash Street transaction and Footnote 15.
Skeels signed a second statement claiming that former city attorney Goldsmith and his senior deputy met with Skeels to discuss Dell’Anno’s performance ahead of his dismissal.
“By the time I was interviewed, it emerged that the handwriting was on the wall and negative work action was brewing in Marlea,” he said. “I didn’t want to suffer the same fate.
Skeels said he reluctantly told Goldsmith that working for Dell’Anno was stressful – a decision he said later upset him because he knew Dell’Anno would have supported him if their roles had been reversed.
Goldsmith, who stepped down in 2016 due to limited terms of office, told the Union-Tribune that the interview with Skeels was one of many he had conducted about Dell’Anno and his service. to the city of San Diego before its decision to fire her.
“I performed a review and interviewed a number of attorneys and staff,” Goldsmith said via email. “Mr. Skeels was among those interviewed. As with the other interviewees, his statement was recorded and transcribed into a written booklet.”
The Dell’Anno civil case is slated for a jury trial in September.