SAN DIEGO — Several prominent businessmen have met separately with Mayor Roger Hedgecock and Dist. Atty. Edwin L. Miller, hoping to fashion a plea bargain whereby Hedgecock would resign and the city would be spared a second felony trial of its mayor.
Baseball executive Ballard Smith, banker Murray Galinson and businessman Malin Burnham met with Miller and later with Hedgecock on Wednesday to discuss a plea bargain, Burnham said Saturday.
The men were sufficiently encouraged by the responses from Miller and Hedgecock that they plan to meet among themselves this week--possibly Tuesday--to study the criminal case against Hedgecock and to explore 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.
Framing any agreement, however, is sure to be difficult, because both men have taken strong public stands 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 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.
View of Hedgecock Aides
Hedgecock's chief of staff, J. Michael McDade, and his attorney, Michael Pancer, both said they knew nothing of any plea bargain talks.
"I'm certain that they mean well," said Pancer of 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," he added.
Hedgecock's first trial ended in a hung jury Feb. 13. Superior Court Judge William L. Todd declared a mistrial when the jury was deadlocked at 11 to 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.
Local GOP Leader
Chairman of John Burnham & Co., a commercial real estate leasing, financing and insurance company, Burnham is a leader of the local Republican Party organization, which is conservative and regards Republican Hedgecock with suspicion.
Burnham supported Hedgecock out of party loyalty in the 1983 mayoral race against Democrat Maureen O'Connor, but quickly swung his support to mayoral challenger Dick Carlson in 1984 when the mayor became embroiled in the J. David & Co. controversy.
Smith, president of the San Diego Padres baseball team, is considered to be a close friend of Hedgecock and a supporter who stuck by the mayor while the San Diego County Grand Jury was investigating Hedgecock for possible financial wrongdoing.
Galinson, president of San Diego National Bank and former director of administration for Walter F. Mondale's 1984 presidential campaign, also has been supportive of Hedgecock in the past.
Basis for Discussion
The businessmen 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, Burnham said. He said the visit "came out of the blue" to Miller, but the businessmen found the district attorney receptive to their mission.
"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," Burnham said.
Contact With Mayor
Later that day, at least one of the businessmen discussed 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. Burnham said Hedgecock discussed in general terms what kind of agreement he might be interested in pursuing with Miller.
"There was some discussion of the technical way to pleading," Burnham said. Asked to elaborate, he said:
"There is obviously a difference between pleading to a felony and to a misdemeanor."