So the Republican Guard, plus the mayoral lapdog, of the San Diego City Council would be tickled red, white and blue to have former District Attorney Ed Miller sit on the city's Ethics Commission. Oh great. Just when this city seemed to be moving forward with youth, vim and vigor, here we are, wandering back into that political time warp of a bygone era.
OK, so Miller fits the bill, technically, to replace Commissioner Lisa Foster, a Democrat and attorney who resigned to become a Superior Court judge. As Mayor 10Goals told the Union-Tribune last week, the 77-year-old La Jollan “meets the criteria of an attorney, a former elected official and a Democrat.” The mayor also lauds Miller as a former DA, U.S. Attorney and as former Mayor Pete Wilson's right-hand man in drafting San Diego's campaign laws, which it should be noted the current commission is presently revamping.
Whether Miller fits the bill of a Democrat is one matter. Councilmember Donna Frye notes the irony that the three Republican members of the City Council-Mayor 10Goals and councilmen Brian Maienschein and Jim Madaffer-have recommended Miller's appointment over the preferences of the council's Democratic members.
Granted, the City Council is supposed to behave in non-partisan ways, but does anybody really believe that? Mayoral yes-man and alleged Democrat
Ralphie Inzunza also weighed in with his thought that Miller would be a good choice, suggesting that 10Goals is near the five votes needed to make the appointment a reality.
But what message is this sending to the people of San Diego? Let's remember that Ed Miller shocked the legal community by getting bounced in the 1994 primary election for district attorney, which was followed by Paul Pfingst's victory in the general. Most political pundits at the time suggested that bad prosecutorial decision-making by Miller led to his downfall after nearly a quarter century in the DA post.
The beginning of the end of Miller's DA career came in the early '90s, when a county grand jury was investigating claims that false accusations and shoddy investigatory practices were rampant in some of the DA Office's child-abuse cases. Carol Hopkins, a member of the grand jury investigating the claims, became a target herself of the DA's notorious inability to take criticism, including surveillance. According to published reports, Hopkins felt the wrath of Miller as she pursued claims that investigators had influenced children to see abuse where none existed.
At one meeting, Miller reportedly told Hopkins, “Who the hell do you think you are, lady, criticizing my child abuse unit?” The grand jury foreman at the time said such tantrums were not uncommon from the curmudgeonly DA.
In the end, two highly publicized cases-one involving church worker
Dale Akiki and another involving Navy petty officer Jim Wade-were tossed out, and both won multi-million-dollar settlements from the county and others. Soon thereafter, Miller was voted out as DA.
This is not to say that Miller couldn't function, perhaps even adequately, on the city's Ethics Commission. But with the wealth of folks out there in San Diego, why should it be so difficult to find someone who could bring a new perspective to investigating ethical conundrums within city government?
Local activist Mel Shapiro, a regular attendee of commission meetings, notes that so far this year the number of complaints lodged with the Ethics Commission appears to be down significantly, suggesting one of two things: either the city has primarily cleaned up its act (which seems doubtful, given some council members' penchant for tinkering with the ethics laws) or that people who would be filing complaints have watched this commission in action and decided that the group lacks the intestinal fortitude to crack down on public scofflaws.
The commission's recent hand-slap of former “ballpark czar” Mike Madigan seems a case in point. As some city insiders note, here's a guy who took the city for a $200,000-plus-a-year ride as a glorified development traffic cop for the downtown ballpark district while his then-girlfriend and now-wife partnered a consulting firm that continues to list the San Diego Padres as a client.
Madigan, who dates back to the Wilson era, is no political novice. Even the commission, in its ruling, noted him as a “sophisticated businessman with extensive experience in municipal affairs.” Yet he failed to mention his wife's economic interest in a project he was overseeing, and for that the commission fined Madigan $1,000. That's right, a whopping grand.
And now, 10Goals and his buddies want to add to this vaunted group one Ed Miller, a man one longtime city observer notes “never seemed unfriendly to The Establishment.” When the council votes on this matter come March 17, perhaps the so-far silent majority will send this throwback packing. Unless, of course, they want to keep a weak-kneed commission in business.