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A Superior Court judge on Friday ordered the San Diego City Attorney’s Office to hand over records requested by the lawyer representing a real estate broker who is accused of secretly collecting millions of dollars in fees from two city leases.

Judge Timothy Taylor granted a motion to compel the production of emails and other documents demanded by lawyers for Jason Hughes, one of the defendants in a pair of lawsuits the city filed in an attempt to void the leases.

“The city is ordered to turn over the documents it has already agreed to produce but has not yet turned over,” Taylor wrote in a tentative ruling that he upheld Friday. “The document production must be completed by May 13, 2022.”

Although he granted the motion from Hughes’ attorney Michael Attanasio, Taylor declined to issue monetary sanctions against the city.

Hughes and his real estate company, Hughes Marino, were sued last year as part of the city’s effort to void lease-to-own contracts the city approved for the Civic Center Plaza in 2015 and a nearby high-rise at 101 Ash St.

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Hughes was paid $5 million for his work on the first lease and $4.4 million for his help on the Ash Street deal.

The City Attorney’s Office said the payments violated the state’s anti-corruption laws because Hughes presented himself as a volunteer consultant to former Mayor Kevin Faulconer at the time — not as someone who would directly benefit from the leases.

But Attanasio said his client told at least six different city officials — including the former mayor — that he would seek to be paid for his work. Faulconer has denied that he was told about the compensation.

The defense lawyer also accused the City Attorney’s Office of withholding emails and other records that show Hughes informed city officials about his plan to seek the payments on each lease.

“Shockingly, the city hid from Mr. Hughes and other parties ‘roughly 300,000 pages’ of documents in the city’s custody that might never have come to light but for the testimony of former city employees,” Attanasio wrote in a brief last week.

The City Attorney’s Office denied withholding responsive records and said lawyers were still combing through records to see which documents needed to be provided and what might be privileged.

“We are providing all emails (duplicative of the PDF emails already provided) on a rolling basis and expected to be completed well prior to the hearing date for this motion,” spokeswoman Leslie Wolf Branscomb said earlier this month.

San Diego city employees have occupied the Civic Center Plaza for decades. But the Ash Street property has been vacant for all but a few weeks since Sempra Energy moved out seven years ago.

City employees moved into the building for a few weeks between December 2019 and January 2020, but asbestos violations issued by San Diego County regulators forced an evacuation and the property has been vacant since.

Both the Mayor’s and City Attorney’s offices have been involved in discussions aimed at resolving the Ash Street litigation out of court, but the City Council has not approved a deal.

The cases are set for trial early next year.

In addition to the civil litigation, District Attorney Summer Stephan has opened a criminal probe into the Ash Street transaction.

Source: This post first appeared on sandiegouniontribune.com

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