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The lobbyist who said he did not have to answer certain questions under oath about his role in the city of San Diego’s troubled Ash Street litigation because he serves on the mediation team is facing a new deposition.
Christopher Wahl of Southwest Strategies is not fully protected by a privilege claim asserted by lawyers representing his client, Cisterra Development, Superior Court Judge Joel Wohlfeil ruled Thursday.
The ruling is the second time Wohlfeil has rejected Cisterra’s legal claim that its lobbyist should not have to answer several specific questions posed by attorneys for a taxpayer suing to void the $128 million lease-to-own transaction.
Wohlfeil stayed his earlier ruling last month after Cisterra attorney Michael Riney requested a delay so he could consider a petition to a state appellate court.
Riney said he was grateful the judge took additional time to reconsider his previous ruling.
“Mr. Wahl played no role in the underlying lease-to-own transactions, and his communications for purpose the ongoing mediation are by law entirely confidential,” he said by email.
Attorney Maria Severson, who represents taxpayer John Gordon in his lawsuit against the city of San Diego, Cisterra and its lender, said the order will allow her to move forward with important testimony.
“This ruling opens the door to the evidence we need to win our case,” she said.
The decision affirmed at the hearing Thursday was slightly modified from Wohlfeil’s ruling last month, when he said the mediation privilege would begin on the day the mediation agreement was signed — Jan. 21, 2021.
In the new ruling, the judge again upheld the privilege claim but said it extends only to discussions and other materials directly related to efforts to resolve the Ash Street litigation.
“Instead of this cut-off date, the mediation privilege applies to any communications which fit the definition and parameters as set forth in the authority cited above,” he wrote.
The dispute over Wahl’s testimony centered on an email he wrote to Jay Goldstone on Jan. 3, 2021, weeks after Mayor Todd Gloria was sworn in and named Goldstone chief operating officer.
In the email, Wahl said his client was conducting its own review of any needed repairs or upgrades at the Ash Street property and he wanted materials prepared by another consultant who concluded that repair work at the property would cost at least $115 million.
Wahl, who was lobbying and raising campaign funds for city officials at the same time he participated in mediation talks, also requested confidential legal information prepared for the city by an outside law firm.
Goldstone originally testified in a deposition earlier this year that in response to the email he directed one of his deputies to collect the information for Wahl.
Late last month Goldstone filed a supplemental sworn declaration saying that deposition testimony was stated in error and he did not tell anyone to provide Wahl the information he requested.
The city agreed to the lease-to-own purchase for the former Sempra Energy headquarters at 101 Ash St. in 2016, but the building has been unsafe to occupy for years due to asbestos and other issues.
Gordon sued the city, its landlord and lender in 2020, claiming the transaction violated the state constitution and the contract must be voided.
The city has its own lawsuit against Cisterra and other defendants, claiming the lease is unlawful because the company had a confidential profit-sharing deal with a broker who was also advising the city.
It was not immediately clear Thursday when Wahl will next be deposed.
Source: This post first appeared on sandiegouniontribune.com