Journalist defends use of footnote 15 which city lawyer says was fabricated

A reporter suing the San Diego city attorney said in a recent affidavit that a high-ranking and knowledgeable source at city hall confirmed the veracity of a disputed footnote in a report explaining how San Diego taxpayers ended up paying millions of dollars for the Ash Street construction lease. .

NBC 7 producer Dorian Hargrove, who is suing city attorney Mara Elliott and her senior lieutenant for libel, said the truth about the footnote would emerge if his lawsuit was allowed to go from there. before in federal court.

“The discovery permitted in the case will reveal that the footnote in question was added as a draft of the report in question by an individual in the City of San Diego with detailed knowledge of the facts disclosed here which were not not known or knowable at the time, “Hargrove said under penalty of perjury.

Hargrove also said in his statement that Elliott abused his authority by personally attacking him and accused her of influencing NBC 7 to remove him from future City Hall coverage.

“NBC 7 has been instructed and / or coerced to take the specific action taken against me and to retaliate publicly against me by Elliott acting through his surrogates,” he said in his statement.

The filing came in response to a petition filed by the city asking a judge to dismiss Hargrove’s lawsuit.

Lawyers defending the city told the court the Hargrove case was unfounded and said the defendants were protected from liability under the legal theory of qualified immunity, which protects public officials from the threat. civil suits for doing their job.

They also said they had nothing to do with the disciplinary action imposed by NBC 7 against Hargrove.

“The defendants did not ask and did not have the option of coercing NBC 7 to suspend the applicant from his job or to ban him from reporting on matters involving the town hall,” the town’s lawyer wrote. in a folder this week.

“It appears the Applicant has been tricked into posting false information to advance someone else’s political agenda. Had he gone through NBC 7’s fact-checking process or re-examined his source material after the city informed him that the information he received was not part of the report, he could have avoided the missteps that led to his suspension and reassignment, ”the response added. “The defendants have not caused the damage claimed by the plaintiff, have not committed any unlawful or illegal act against him and are immune from any legal liability. “

A federal judge is expected to rule on the request shortly.

Hargrove and a colleague wrote an article in September 2020 raising questions about the due diligence exercised by city authorities before approving a $ 128 million capital lease agreement for the former Sempra Energy headquarters at 101 Ash. St at the end of 2016.

The city was unable to use the building largely because of asbestos and other issues, despite spending tens of millions of dollars on lease payments and repairs.

NBC 7 based its report on a confidential report by law firm Burke Williams & Sorensen, which the city hired to review the transaction.

The confidential findings reported by NBC included a “footnote 15” claiming that Elliott interfered in the review of the transaction by outside lawyers and that then counsel Todd Gloria had misrepresented the claims. details of the transaction.

The news station retracted that part of the story after Elliott and Gloria publicly said the footnote was fabricated in an attempt to hurt their chances in the next election. Burke Williams officials signed affidavits stating that the footnote was not included in their legal analysis.

The question of who wrote “Footnote 15” and put it in the version of the Burke report obtained by NBC 7 has rocked town hall for weeks and annoys political observers to this day.

In its retraction, NBC 7 said it could not confirm the authenticity of the footnote, as its internal investigation revealed “missteps in our reporting and our process of checks and balances”, but she was sticking to the rest of the story.

Elliott and his team criticized Hargrove on social media after NBC 7 was pulled.

“NBC 7 suspended Dorian Hargrove after its internal investigation revealed that he wrote a bogus story based on a fabricated document,” she posted on her personal Twitter account. “The only slander was the false story itself, a savage and baseless slander orchestrated to tip an election.”

Elliott at the time was in a tight race for re-election. Gloria was also in a competitive campaign for mayor of San Diego. Both candidates won the November 2020 elections.

Hargrove said in his statement that Elliott and his team’s social media posts defamed him in order to bolster his political position weeks before the vote. The only way to prove it is to go ahead with the lawsuit, he said.

“I believe my reputation has been destroyed as a tool for the accused to achieve political goals unrelated to my reporting, and that the depths of this deception cannot be revealed without the power of the process. civil discovery authorized in this legal matter, ”Hargrove wrote in the statement.

The case has been transferred to United States District Court Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo. A decision could be made as early as Monday.

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