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Monday, July 22, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Attorney Just Made Things Worse, Client Says

SAN DIEGO (CN) - A former San Diego County pension fund officer claims in court that a publicity-hungry attorney defrauded him and cost him his job by persuading him to leak documents about pension fund investments to the San Diego Union Tribune.

Jeffrey Baker sued the San Diego law firm Aguirre Morris Severson, and his former attorney Michael Aguirre in Superior Court, alleging legal malpractice, fraud and five other counts.

Baker also sued the law firm's partner Christopher Morris.

The San Diego Union Tribune reported on March 22 that a judge dismissed Baker's 2012 complaint against his former employer, the San Diego County Employees Retirement Association.

Baker claimed he was fired for blowing the whistle on $8 billion in risky investments. He claimed the pension fund violated its own policies in the investments.

The Union Tribune reported that a federal judge upheld the Civil Service Commission's firing of Baker for giving confidential documents to "outside parties."

In his new complaint, Baker blames the law firm for his firing.

He claims his troubles started when Aguirre persuaded him to leak emails on his whistleblower claims to the Union Tribune.

He claims the attorneys failed to help him fight his harassment, disability discrimination and whistleblower case against his former employer. And he claims the attorneys were woefully ineffective at the administrative and Civil Service Commission proceedings that led to his dismissal.

Baker claims the defendants billed him $6,000 in attorney fees and another $1,000 for a bogus private investigator, though he hired the law firm on a contingency basis.

Baker says in the complaint that he met Aguirre about two years ago.

"At their first meeting, Aguirre misrepresented to plaintiff that he had 'busted' employees at the City of San Diego's pension fund and sent them to 'jail,'" the complaint states. "Plaintiff later learned that Aguirre did not prosecute any employees at San Diego's pension fund and was not responsible for sending anyone to jail."

Baker claims that from the beginning Aguirre encouraged him to send emails on to the pension fund investments to the San Diego Union Tribune.

Baker claims that he "expressed concern" about handing over the emails in May 2011, but relented when Aguirre assured him that the emails were part of the public record.

"Plaintiff was not informed that these emails would be scanned and attached to an online version of a story on the UT's website," the complaint states. "The UT sent plaintiff a draft of the story to fact check. The story was completely inaccurate and plaintiff instructed them not to run it. The story erroneously focused on one manager, Hoisington, for all SDCERA's [San Diego County Employees Retirement Association] risk problems. Plaintiff informed the UT that this information was wrong and that he believed the UT could be sued by Hoisington if they ran the story as drafted."

After the UT printed the story, Baker says, the pension fund put him on administrative leave for submitting confidential information to outside parties.


In July 2011, the pension system gave him notice of an administrative hearing. Aguirre then introduced Baker to a private investigator, Kevin Christiansen, to help him with the case, Baker claims.

"Aguirre told plaintiff he needed to give Christiansen one thousand dollars for him to get started, and may need to pay more depending on how much time is needed. Unbeknownst to plaintiff, Christiansen was not a private investigator but a law student and intern at AMS LLP [Aguirre Morris Severson]. Further, no 'investigating' was ever performed," according to the complaint.

Baker says the pension system formally fired him on July 29, 2011. He was given 10 days to file an appeal with the Civil Service Commission.

He claims his attorneys did little work on his behalf.

Aguirre, however, persuaded him to talk to the UT again, Baker claims. But when stories about his case were published, they were "all about Aguirre," according to the complaint.

"On or around December 5, 2011, plaintiff went into AMS LLP to continue preparing for his hearing. Aguirre instructed plaintiff 'to read some definitions out of a dictionary.' Plaintiff told Aguirre to 'quit messing around and that [they] need to get [their] plan down.' Aguirre yelled at plaintiff saying, 'We are going to do this thing my way, my reputation is at stake.' The following day, two of plaintiff's witnesses, a computer forensic expert and an ethics expert, told him that '[they] are going to pull out because Aguirre is not returning their calls and they do not know when they are needed or what they are testifying about.' Additionally, on December 7, the day before the hearing, plaintiff learned that defendants never sent out some of the subpoenas," according to the complaint. (Brackets in complaint.)

Baker claims that Aguirre "had trouble locating all the necessary documents" at the hearings, and failed to get subpoenas out on time.

"On or around January 26, 2012, Aguirre and plaintiff discussed doing an editorial for the UT called 'Why I acted,'" the complaint states. "Plaintiff drafted the piece and sent it to Aguirre. Aguirre completely rewrote the editorial and sent it back to plaintiff for review. Plaintiff informed Aguirre that he did not like this draft and needed time to think about submitting it. Plaintiff specifically instructed Aguirre 'not to send it to the paper.' The following day, against plaintiff's wishes and instruction, the editorial was posted on the UT's website. Plaintiff immediately called Aguirre and asked how the UT got the editorial. Aguirre admitted to sending it to the paper but held that he told them not to print it.

"In February 2012, defendants contacted plaintiff wanting to finally file his whistleblower and disability discrimination lawsuit. Plaintiff asked Aguirre about the statute of limitations for his claims in fear that they may have elapsed. Aguirre refused to give plaintiff a date and only said that '[they] should file immediately.' When asked about a possible six month statute of limitations for the discrimination due to disability claims, Aguirre held that '[he] can file a late claim.' Plaintiff also requested that Aguirre refund him $1,000 for the 'private investigator fee,' that was fraudulently charged, because Christiansen was not a private investigator and never did any investigating." (Brackets in complaint.)

Baker says he fired Aguirre and the law firm in April 2012.

But in an interview with Courthouse News, Aguirre disputed Baker's claims.

Aguirre noted that the firm successfully defended Baker in his unemployment hearing -- though there was no mention of that victory in Baker's complaint. He said a "desperate" Baker had come to the firm, which had "devoted an enormous amount of time" helping the former pension officer.

"This is the ultimate example of no good deed goes unpunished," Aguirre said.

The attorney said Baker was abusive, wanted to control every aspect of his case and was an "unappreciative" client.

"You have a situation where someone tries to help someone else," Aguirre said. "Like someone's drowning in a pool. You try to help the drowning person. He doesn't like the way you helped him. Then he turns around and files a lawsuit against you."

Aguirre also disputed Baker's claim that he never busted anyone in the San Diego pension fund system. He said he was part of a team of federal prosecutors that indicted 17 individuals. Several of those individuals went to jail, Aguirre said.

He said Baker had "a six-month relationship" with the Tribune before attorney and client crossed paths. Baker supplied "massive amounts of information" to the newspaper, Aguirre said, and personally delivered the documents cited in his complaint.

Aguirre said Baker's attacks on partner Morris and colleague Christiansen were "unfounded."

Baker's attorney was "reckless" to file the lawsuit, Aguirre added. He said Baker's federal complaint alleged that he was fired for publicizing his claims, an allegation that was "diametrically opposed" to his complaint in Superior Court.

"What you see is that he [Baker] is speaking out of both sides of his mouth," Aguirre said.

Baker seeks lost wages and punitive damages for legal malpractice, breach of contract, breach of faith, breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, and negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

He is represented by Joshua Gruenberg.

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