Prosecuting natives accused of committing misdemeanors, providing legal advice to city officials and being there are a citizen advocate the 3 roles San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott and her staffers do on a daily basis.
“I love this project and am having the time of my entire life,” Elliott said of being the first female town attorney and first Latina elected into a citywide office at San Diego. She talked on Sept. 13 at Rancho Bernardo in the Wednesday Etc.. Women’s Club luncheon. “It is by far the most fascinating job I’ve ever had.”
The Scripps Ranch resident has been chosen last fall to oversee the 360 staff members, including 160 lawyers. It operates on a $54 million budget.
She had been advisor to the city’s Independent Audit Committee and Environment Committee and the chief deputy city attorney for the Public Services Section of the office. Elliott was a senior deputy county counsel who advised county teams and agencies, was general counsel and a deputy general counsel to the San Diego Metropolitan Transit Development Board to K-12 and community college districts throughout California.
That she said much outweighed her four competitors — Elliott said while on the campaign trail that was two-year she often encountered individuals who questioned her ability since she’s a woman to be San Diego’s city attorney.
“There were lots of challenges along the campaign route,” she said. “This is a cerebral role, so people were not used to (the idea) of a woman (as town attorney). … But I’ve heard that each and every time you break the (glass) ceiling it leaves it a little easier for the next (woman).
“It takes time for individuals to alter how that they see individuals,” she said. “My skin was thick when (the campaign) began, however, is a great deal thicker now.”
Since there are only two citywide elected positions — mayor and town attorney — Elliott said it’s “a very strong position” especially due to the duties it entails. These include advising the mayor and city councilmembers on proposed and current laws and weighing in on dollar jobs, like the convention center growth.
Lawyers on her staff need to defend the town when there are lawsuits such as injuries due to falling trees, garbage trucks running over someone or allegations of excessive force by police officers. Making sure taxpayer money is used sensibly, including contracts, can also be important as is reviewing ballot initiatives such as SoccerCity document.
“The average voter will not read that, so we must handle the issues and clarify them so a layperson can understand,” she said. “I will not let you know how you can vote, but will attempt to get the best deal for you as San Diegans.”
While those accused of felonies are prosecuted by the district attorney’s office, it’s the town attorney’s office that prosecutes misdemeanor cases like theft, quality of life and nuisance cases, ” she said.
Elliott also has to function as mediator between the mayor (who under the strong mayor system would be the city’s administrator) and town council (the policy makers).
“I’ve a lot of aims to achieve,” Elliott said. Among these are a means to get the “frequent customers” as she called those repeatedly prosecuted for misdemeanors — up to 50 times — into programs that may address the main issues. “It fiscally is logical to find answers to get to the base of the problem,” Elliott said. “Why is this occurring? Drugs? Alcohol? They must need to do the perfect thing and get on course.”
Her solution, which incorporates help from other agencies, is the San Diego Misdemeanor At Risk Tracking (SMART) Program. Ten individuals going through the program costs around $98,000 less than the more than $ the town to prosecute them. A recent $3 million state grant will help the program expand, ” she said.
Other priorities include protecting the older and ensuring they can “live a dignified life and aren’t taken advantage of” and establishing methods and coordinated response for dealing with those suffering memory loss. She said 65,000 San Diegans live independently and often have Alzheimer’s disease. She said a recent instance of a man who shot his wife. “How can you eliminate a gun from a house from a good gun owner sooner or later, but who has begun to slide?” she asked.
She said there are hurdles for law enforcement to discover the fact as a result of medical privacy and they want strategies to manage crime victims who have been witnesses that were great originally, but due to memory aren’t by the time goes to trial.
Elliott known as District Attorney Summer Stephan her spouse in these efforts.
Revamping the Family Justice Center is another of her goals, wanting after being part of this police department it to revert back into the city attorney’s domain. Elliott said it has to be a one-stop store for domestic violence victims to seek aid, including legal, counselling, medical and job help. Other changes, like expediting restraining orders, are needed, ” she said.
“We will need to protect against sending (victims) all over town to get solutions,” she said.