Decision 2020

Incumbent San Diego City Attorney Campaigns for Re-Election

Mara Elliott’s challengers say the incumbent hasn’t earned a second term; each claims they have the experience and leadership skills needed to improve the office

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San Diego's city attorney is seeking another four-year term as the city’s chief legal advisor.

Mara Elliott says her leadership has made San Diego a safer city.

“I have put my 28-plus years of experience to work for the city of San Diego,” Elliott said in a pre-election interview. “It’s a tough job, and I think the city relies on me to protect people.”

Elliott directs a department with more than 150 deputy city attorneys and 200 support staff. She said she is most proud of her office’s effort to prevent domestic violence and provide services to victims. Much of that work is done through the Family Justice Center, which Elliott said provides a myriad of services at one location.

“Restraining orders, forensic exams, counseling, all of that,” Elliott said. “And that’s available to anybody inside or outside of the city of San Diego.”

Elliott’s office has also filed gun violence restraining orders against gun owners who exhibit warning signs of violence. Those restraining orders, which are issued by a judge who hears evidence supplied by the city attorney, are based on a 2014 state law prompted by a mass shooting at UC Santa Barbara.

The city attorney’s office has intervened more than 300 times to temporarily remove at least 500 weapons from owners who exhibited signs of possible violence, Elliott said.

But her two opponents said they can do a better job as San Diego legal advisor and chief public legal advocate.

“Honesty, transparency, competency,” are the three words attorney Cory Briggs used to describe his qualifications for the job. “Those are the three things you need in a city attorney.”

Briggs is a public interest and environmental law expert who has sued local government multiple times to obtain public records and block construction projects he and his clients claim violate planning guidelines.

"I have the experience,” Briggs said in an interview. “I have the track record. I'm always on the public's side in making sure their tax dollars are protected, their right to vote is protected. and their right to information is protected."

Briggs faults Elliott for backing a proposed state law (SB 615) he says would have heightened government secrecy and made it harder for taxpayers to obtain public documents.

Elliott eventually withdrew her support for SB 615, which was sponsored by State Senator Ben Hueso. She insists that Briggs and other critics have "mischaracterized” her position on the issue.

Elliott said she intended to “streamline” the public records disclosure system and make it easier for citizens to obtain public documents.

Her other re-election opponent, attorney Pete Mesich, is also critical of Elliott’s support of SD 615. Mesich is a former deputy San Diego city attorney who also has experience in private practice and various areas of legal practice, including criminal, civil and government regulation.

Mesich said he would improve leadership at the city attorney’s office by focusing on legal work and “getting the best from the great lawyers and unofficial leaders” on the city’s legal team.

“Working collaboratively with the mayor and with the other councilmembers, we can start working on some solutions, again, as opposed to fighting over policy issues,” Mesich said.

He and Briggs both claim that Elliott’s office failed to properly vet the contract for the city’s controversial “Smart Street Lights” program.

Mesich, Briggs and other critics said the cameras attached to the street lights are a privacy risk for San Diegans.

Elliott strongly disagreed. She argued that the video evidence from the camera is a useful crime-fighting tool for police, who she said have used the footage to solve more than 200 crimes.

Elliott also said the contract governing the use of that video has privacy protections. And, she said, “If the (city) council doesn’t like that technology, they can just turn off the cameras. It’s that easy.”

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