A group of prominent San Diego businessmen has met with Mayor Roger Hedgecock and Dist. Atty. Edwin L. Miller, hoping to fashion a plea bargain whereby Hedgecock would resign and the city be spared a second felony trial of its mayor.
Baseball executive Ballard Smith, banker Murray Galinson and businessman Malin Burnham met with both Hedgecock and Miller on Wednesday to broach the subject of a prospective plea bargain, Burnham said.
The men were sufficiently encouraged by the responses from Miller and Hedgecock that they plan to meet among themselves this week--possibly Tuesday--to begin studying the criminal case against Hedgecock and exploring the groundwork for a possible deal with the district attorney, Burnham added.
"I see the door is definitely open on both sides for the ingredients of an agreement," Burnham said.
The thrust of the group's proposal is that Miller accept a guilty plea from Hedgecock in exchange for the mayor's resignation. The move would spare Hedgecock the expense of a second trial, Burnham said.
Framing any agreement, however, is sure to be difficult, because both men have taken strong public stances in favor of a second trial.
And political observers generally agree that for Miller to accept a plea bargain, Hedgecock would have to admit guilt on some felonies. But that move that could imperil the mayor's law license, depriving him of his profession outside of public office.
Miller declined to comment on last week's talks, and Hedgecock was on vacation at an undisclosed location.
Hedgecock's Chief of Staff, J. Michael McDade, and attorney, Michael Pancer, both said they knew nothing of any plea bargain talks.
"I'm certain that they mean well," said Pancer about the businessmen. "I couldn't predict what effect what they're doing might have.
"We're not plea bargaining, we're not hunting for a plea bargain, and we didn't authorize anyone to do that."
The effort by the businessmen appears to be the first overture toward resolving Hedgecock's criminal woes out of court since his first trial ended with a hung jury Feb. 13.
Superior Court Judge William L. Todd declared a mistrial when the jury was deadlocked at 11-1 in favor of a guilty verdict on 13 counts of felony conspiracy and perjury, stemming from charges that Hedgecock received tens of thousands of dollars illegally in his 1983 campaign.
Hedgecock is scheduled to stand trial a second time on the charges May 9.
The businessmen, however, found enough room last week to believe a delicate balance could be struck, Burnham said.
"Both sides are open-minded," Burnham said. "It's kind of like the first introduction of a boy-girl date. Each is cautious to approach the other. So you get a third party" to propose the date.
The businessmen first met with Miller at the district attorney's office in the County Administration Building, Burnham said. He said the visit "came out of the blue" to Miller, but the businessmen found the district attorney receptive to their mission.
Burnham said the group proposed a package deal that would not only resolve Hedgecock's criminal case but would take care of the $1.2-million civil suit filed against the mayor and his supporters by the state Fair Political Practices Commission. The FPPC filed the suit in October, 1984, alleging more than 450 campaign violations in connection with the 1983 mayoral race.
"We told (Miller) that we believed that for the good of the city, on some compromise basis, we thought the mayor had to resign, for the D.A. to take some guilty plea and for the FPPC to take some fine," Burnham said.
"Miller's reaction was one of principally listening to what we had to suggest," Burnham said. "I would say that he displayed every evidence of reasonableness . . .
"We suggested that the next step would be to talk to Roger, and he (Miller) agreed that that would be the next step to take . . . He didn't ask us to do it, he didn't propose that we do it, but he basically agreed that it would be the next step."
Later that day, at least one of the businessmen broached the subject with Hedgecock, said Burnham, who declined to identify the person who talked to the mayor.
Burnham said Hedgecock, at first, gave his standard reply: "I am going to fight."
But, mindful of developments since the first trial, Hedgecock also seemed to soften his stance, Burnham said. Pancer has filed a motion asking to be replaced for the second trial.
In addition, an attempt by Hedgecock supporters to raise money for the mayor's legal defense suffered a blow recently when City Atty. John Witt ruled each contributor could only donate $250, the limit allowed by city campaign contribution laws. Hedgecock had been hoping for $1,000 and more per contributor and has filed suit against the city, claiming Witt's ruling is an unconstitutional infringement on his right to self-defense.
Burnham said Hedgecock on Wednesday discussed in general terms what kind of agreement he may be interested in pursuing with Miller.