Former lawyer for San Diego sues, alleging retaliation for testifying against city

Earlier this year, a court awarded nearly $ 4 million to former San Diego City Attorney Marlea Del Anno in a lengthy illegal closure case. Now a key witness in that trial has filed his own lawsuit against the city.

Mark Skeels, who served in the city attorney’s office for more than 10 years before being fired last fall, is suing the city of San Diego, two private attorneys and a law firm that previously defended the Dell’Anno case.

According to the legal complaint, which was filed May 20 in the San Diego Supreme Court, Skeels claims that he was retaliated by refusing to give an affidavit in the Dell’Anno case, which was favorable to the city.

“The accused unjustly and illegally retaliated against the plaintiff for giving evidence contrary to the city and the report of immoral behavior by the city lawyer,” the lawsuit states.

“At the time the plaintiff made the allegations, the plaintiff had good reason to believe that his allegations concerned violations of state or federal law or regulations,” he added.

A spokeswoman for City Attorney Mara Elliott said Skills was fired in September for violating ethics.

“Lawyers working in our office have a moral duty to protect the privileged and confidential information,” spokeswoman Leslie Wolf Branscomb said in an email.

“After an internal investigation, the city attorney’s office found that Mr. Skeels had violated his ethical duty and rules of professional conduct,” Wolf wrote. “The City Attorney’s Office is taking these violations seriously.”

In addition to the city, Skeels named attorneys William Price and Brian Ginter and law firm Burke Williams & Sorensen as accomplices in the lawsuit. The company was hired to defend the city in the Dell’Anno case.

Price and Ginter did not respond to a request for comment.

Now a lawyer at a private practice, Skeels signed two affidavits in the Dell’Anno case last year after a meeting with Price in which Price strongly suggested that Skeels adjust his testimony in favor of the city.

Price also admitted that he knew that Skeels and Dell’Anno – his one-time boss – had a previous personal relationship. According to the lawsuit, Price said he would seek to keep this information from the public record if Skeels helped him win the case.

In addition, according to the suit, Price accidentally met a woman named Kathryn McGhee at a social event in 2020. Price learned that Skeels was dating McGhee but started flirting with her anyway, the suit said.

“When McGhee rejected his advances and informed Price that she was friends with the plaintiff, Price said the plaintiff was not a ‘good guy’ and revealed that the plaintiff had previously had an affair with Dell’Anno,” the lawsuit states.

In a meeting with Price last year, Skeels said Price admitted that he may have told McGhee that Skeels had been dating Dell’Anno in the past.

According to the lawsuit, McGhee fabricated a testimony on Price’s instructions about how she had learned about Skeels’s relationship with Dell’Anno, saying in a statement that she had looked at Skeels’s cell phone.

Price told McGhee that “people never go to jail” for perjury and that “people lie at the witness stand all the time,” the lawsuit states.

McGhee later withdrew her testimony, saying she had been bullied, lied to and forced to sign a statement that was not true. An audio tape of this allegation was then sent to City Prosecutor Mara Elliott, the entire City Council and Burke Williams & Sorensen.

The San Diego Union-Tribune cited the allegations in Skeels’ statement in June 2021, shortly before Ginter fired Skeels in preparation for the Dell’Anno trial.

Skeels met with then-assistant city attorney John Hemmerling after the testimony to discuss the testimony and indicated to Skeels that he would not be punished for his honest testimony, the lawsuit said.

“Hemmerling assured the plaintiff that everything would ‘go well,'” the complaint states. “Hemmerling was pleased with the plaintiff.”

But the next day, Hemmerling called to say he was “extremely disappointed” with Skeels and that Hemmerling believed they had a better relationship after working “so well together for five years,” the lawsuit said.

Skeels was later informed that he had been fired.

“The plaintiff believes that the change in Hemmerling and the abrupt decision to place him on administrative leave could only be explained by the fact that his testimony in the Dell’Anno testimony and his statement about Price’s intimidation tactics supported Dell’Anno and not the city. Said the suit.

Hemerling, a San Diego sheriff who is likely to run in the second round in November, resigned from the city attorney general’s office late last month – a day after the Union-Tribune withdrew its support.

Dell’Anno, who was fired in 2015 and filed a lawsuit against the city in 2017, was awarded $ 3.9 million by a jury in the San Diego Supreme Court in March.

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Former lawyer for San Diego sues, alleging retaliation for testifying against city Source link Former lawyer for San Diego sues, alleging retaliation for testifying against city

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