Former City Attorneys Sue San Diego and Aguirre

October 7, 2005 ( - Two former deputy city attorneys who were fired by San Diego City Attorney Michael Aguirre have filed a defamation and wrongful termination lawsuit against him and the city.

The San Diego Union Tribune reports that James Chapin and Penny Castleman allege that Aguirre harassed them and then fired them in January without cause.   Both were 20 year veterans of the City Attorney’s Office.

Chapin is married to Lori Chapin, a general counsel for the San Diego City Employee Retirement System (SDCERS).   Aguirre has tried unsuccessfully to take over as SDCERS lawyer, the Union Tribune noted.   According to the lawsuit, Aguirre called Lori Chapin in December to announce he was replacing her as the system’s counsel.   She replied by saying he did not have the authority to fire her, only the City Council could do that.

According to the Union Tribune, the suit said that later that same day, Aguirre called James Chapin to his office and told him he had two weeks to persuade his wife to quit her job or he would be fired.   The suit alleges this was the first of several similar threats.

Aguirre, who has accused the retirement board of illegal activities contributing to the system’s $1.4 billion deficit, told Chapin that his wife would be indicted if she did not resign.   He further said, according to the suit, that if she did resign, he had connections in the US Attorney’s Office that may be able to prevent her from being prosecuted.   When Chapin resisted, the suit says Aguirre assigned a lawyer to shadow him.

Castleman was an officer in the Deputy City Attorneys’ Association, along with James Chapin, the Union Tribune reports.   The Association was working to be certified as a labor union when Aguirre took office last December.   The lawsuit said Aguirre was offended by Castleman’s repeated attempts to get Aguirre to meet with union members on personnel and ethics issues.   He fired Castleman on January 24 of this year, saying “It is not working out.”   The lawsuit said Aguirre fired Chapin two days later.

Tracy Nation, the attorney for Chapin and Castleman, said she will seek from the city more than $1 million in economic losses and damages for each client, plus attorney fees, according to the Union Tribune.

Aguirre did not return phone calls for comment on the case.   Deputy Mayor Toni Atkins declined to comment.