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In the face of a likely appeal, Superior Court Judge Joel Wohlfeil issued a stay Tuesday to his ruling earlier this month requiring Ash Street lobbyist Chris Wahl to be deposed again.

“I’m up to my eyeballs in alligators,” Wohlfeil said. “I’m not making any excuses. The buck stops with me. I wanted to get a decision out. It’s a high-profile case. I took the best shot I could.”

Attorneys for Ash Street landlord Cisterra Development sought the stay in order to appeal the March 18 ruling to the 4th District Court of Appeal.

They claimed that Wohlfeil made multiple errors in finding that the mediation privilege Wahl asserted at his February deposition was effective Jan. 21, 2021, the day the agreement was signed.

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Cisterra lawyer Michael Riney said the privilege should begin in October 2020, when he and lawyers for the city of San Diego first agreed to mediate litigation the City Attorney’s Office filed against his client.

“The fundamental error of the March 18, 2022, discovery order is that it would wrongly compel the non-party Christopher Wahl to disclose at deposition discussions had ‘for the purpose of … mediation’ in violation of Evidence Code Sec. 1119,” he wrote in his request.

The start date of the mediation is important because Wahl sought detailed and confidential information from Mayor Todd Gloria’s chief operating officer, Jay Goldstone, in early January last year.

Wahl cited the privilege exemption in declining to answer several questions at his deposition last month. In his own deposition, Goldstone said he directed an aide to comply with Wahl’s request.

Lawyers representing taxpayer John Gordon in his lawsuit against the city, Cisterra and its lender, CGA Capital, want to question Wahl about his Jan. 3, 2021, email and other Ash Street-related communications.

They said there was no new evidence presented to justify the stay.

“There’s no basis for a stay,” Gordon attorney Michael Aguirre said.

Wahl has been working for Cisterra for two years and served on an informal panel that helped Gloria win the San Diego mayor’s race in 2020.

Wohlfeil said he granted the stay because an appellate court review could delay the case by weeks or months. He set a hearing for April 14 to announce his next decision.

The Gordon lawsuit is separate from two cases the city filed against Cisterra. The taxpayer claim seeks to void the Ash Street lease because it indebted the city without a public vote.

The city’s suits claim the Ash Street lease and a similar deal for the nearby Civic Center Plaza were corrupt because a former “volunteer” adviser to former Mayor Kevin Faulconer did not disclose almost $10 million in fees he collected from Cisterra.

The former mayoral adviser, real estate broker Jason Hughes, said he told Faulconer and other city officials that he expected to be paid for his work.

Goldstone, City Attorney Mara Elliott and other city officials have been meeting with Wahl to try and settle those cases out of court. At the same time, the lobbyist has raised thousands of dollars in campaign donations for local elected officials.

Aguirre, who is a former San Diego city attorney, said Cisterra is seeking to delay further testimony from Wahl while settlement talks continue in the city’s cases.

“They are going to try and get it resolved in May,” he said. “That’s why they are stalling here.”

Wohlfeil also sided with Cisterra’s and CGA Capital’s request to appoint retired San Diego Judge Ronald Prager as a referee in future depositions — at a daily rate of $12,000.

The Gordon legal team recommended retired Judge Ernest Goldsmith of San Francisco, who charges $6,000 a day.

Wohlfeil said he chose Prager because he is locally based.

The judge also clarified a call he received hours before the March 18 hearing from Jan Adler, a retired federal magistrate who is the mediator in the city’s lawsuits against Cisterra.

“There’s nothing about the disclosure that I found offensive or insulting,” Wohlfeil said. “He called. He was trying to help and I said no. As far as I am concerned, that’s behind us.”

Adler has not responded to multiple requests for an explanation about why he called Wohlfeil to discuss the Ash Street litigation.

The contact was questioned by Gordon’s legal team because lawyers are barred by ethics rules from interfering in pending cases. Wohlfeil has said there was nothing in the Adler call that would affect the case.

Source: This post first appeared on sandiegouniontribune.com

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